Boehringer Ingelheim headquarters in Ingelheim, Germany. Boehringer Ingelheim headquarters in Ingelheim, Germany. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Ridgefield, Connecticut-based Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. was not upfront about the risks of its blood thinner, Pradaxa, a federal jury found Wednesday evening before returning a $1.25 million award for the family of an 84-year-old woman who died of severe bleeding.

The nine-person jury in the Southern District of West Virginia, Huntington Division, found for the family of Betty Knight on the count of fraud, awarding $50,000 in medical expenses and $200,000 in pain and suffering. It also awarded the family $1 million in punitive damages. But jurors found for the company, which is headquartered in Germany, on the first four counts regarding adequacy of warning labels and warrant claims.

Boehringer said in a statement that it would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia.

The verdict was the first time the company was found liable in a lawsuit regarding the relatively new drug. The company prevailed in three court cases this year, including one earlier this month in Hartford.


Related storyCovington, Shipman & Goodwin Prevail in Another Defense of Pradaxa


Attorneys for the family maintained Knight suffered severe bleeding, which eventually led to her death in September 2013, because of her use of Pradaxa.

“They have tried to market a drug that should be monitored so people do not get too much in their blood,” said lead plaintiff attorney C. Andrew Childers, of Atlanta-based Childers, Schlueter & Smith. “They have marketed it as ‘You never need to have your blood level checked,’ and people are walking around with no idea they are over-anti-coagulated.”

Childers told the Connecticut Law Tribune Friday that Pradaxa, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010, “is not a terrible drug, overall. But the way it is being marketed is causing people to hurt unnecessarily, especially when there are other drug options out there. For some people, it’s just not their drug. With people who have any types of problems with their kidney[, which Knight did], you have to monitor it.”

 

‘Misunderstanding’

Before Pradaxa was approved, Warfarin, which was sold under the brand name Coumadin, was the only oral anti-coagulant available in the country for reducing stroke and systemic embolism in patients with atrial fibrillation.

In his opening statement to the jury, Childers said the company knew monitoring the drug would “kill sales.”

“You can’t sell this new class of drugs if you tell doctors and patients, ‘You’ve got to keep getting your blood monitored just the way you are now,”‘ he said.

But opposing counsel, Covington & Burling’s Phyllis Jones, rebutted in her opening statement by evoking images of a frail patient with multiple medical problems not associated with Pradaxa use.

“Mrs. Knight didn’t just have a couple of conditions that her doctors were helping her manage,” Jones told the jury. “You will see throughout the course of this case that she had a number of serious chronic medical conditions that her doctors were helping her with: serious kidney disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes. She had chronic weakness.”


Related story: Litigators of the Week: A Compassionate—But Effective—Product Liability Defense


Jones did not respond to a request for comment Friday, but Boehringer emailed a statement to the Connecticut Law Tribune promising an appeal.

“We are disappointed that the jury ruled for the plaintiffs on their fraud claim, which appears to be a misunderstanding of unique legal issues in this case and contrary to the evidence presented here,” the statement read. “We will pursue all avenues of appeal.”

There are nearly 3,000 Pradaxa cases pending nationwide, including more than 2,600 on the Connecticut consolidated Pradaxa docket.

In addition to Childers, the family’s counsel includes Neal Moskow of Ury & Mokow, and Russell Abney and Hunter Linville of the Atlanta offices of Ferrer, Poirot & Wansbrough.

Along with Jones, Boehringer Ingelheim’s legal team includes Nicholas Hailey and Jessica Perez of Convington, John Lewis of the Cleveland office of Tucker Ellis, and Gretchen Callas of the West Virginia office of Jackson Kelly. None of the defense attorneys responded to a request for comment Friday.


Read the verdict