A federal jury in Colorado has returned a combined $383.5 million jury verdict in favor of the families of three patients who died of heart attacks after receiving dialysis treatments from Denver-based dialysis provider DaVita Inc.
Jurors in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Wednesday ordered DaVita to pay $125 million in punitive damages each to the estates of Irma Menchaca, Gary Gene Saldana and Deborah Hardin, which accused the company of negligence and fraudulent concealment in administering the name-brand GranuFlo dialysis solution at its clinics, despite warnings that it could cause serious injury or death.
Compensatory damages for the three estates ranged from $1.5 million to $5 million, the plaintiffs attorneys said on Thursday.
National law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and the North Carolina-based Paynter Law Firm filed multiple wrongful death suits in 2013, alleging that DaVita failed to inspect and review the composition of GranuFlo, which is made by German health care company Fresenius Medical Care.
According to court documents, DaVita knew as early as 2004 that GranuFlo could cause a rapid uptick in bicarbonate levels when metabolized by patients, potentially causing cardiac arrest or stroke, and was recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug administration in 2012,
However, the complaints said, DaVita continued to administer the treatment across its 2,000 dialysis centers in the United States and did nothing to act on the warnings, including a 2011 internal report from Fresenius that found the use of GranuFlo could led to a dramatic increase in cardiac arrest during the dialysis process.
According to court filings, DaVita failed to educate its staff on the threat and never required post-dialysis bicarbonate testing to screen for high levels of acids in its patients. Meanwhile, the threat was never communicated to DaVita’s patients, the plaintiffs said.
“Had DaVita required such testing staff could have used a different dialysate on patients with dangerously high post-dialysis bicarbonate,” they said in the complaints.
“To this day DaVita has not alerted patients or doctors that heart attacks and other health issues following dialysis could have been caused by use of GranuFlo.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs announced the verdict in a statement Thursday afternoon, saying they would continue to fight for patients who had died as a result of the GranuFlo treatments.
“DaVita ignored many red flags that preceded the loss of life of these three patients and many others,” said lead trial attorney Rob Carey of Hagens Berman. “It is our mission now to fight for the rights of those who lost their lives due to DaVita’s abhorrent oversight and negligence.”
In a statement, DaVita said that it “strongly disagreed” with the jury’s findings and would fight the verdict on appeal.
“The facts in the trial contradict the allegations upon which this verdict is premised. There was substantial evidence that the GranuFlo product is safe and effective, and no evidence that we or the manufacturer of GranuFlo hid any data contradicting its safety or effectiveness,” the company said.
An attorney for DaVita was not available to comment, and a representative from DaVita’s media relations department did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the verdict.
The plaintiffs were represented by Carey, Molly Anne Booker, Craig Richard Valentine and Elizabeth Tory Beardsley of Hagens Berman and Stuart McKinley Paynter, Jennifer L. Murray and Sara Cadwallader Willingham of the Paynter Law Firm.
DaVita was represented by Michael Edward Prangle, Jonquil L. Whitehead and Richard D. De Jong of Hall Prangle & Schoonveld in Chicago.
U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson presided over in the case.