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After considering evidence in the first bellwether trial for several thousand testosterone drug lawsuits, a federal jury has ordered AbbVie to pay $150 million in punitive damages, which is designed to punish the maker of Androgel for making fraudulent misrepresentations about the safety of their “low T” gel.
The verdict came in an Androgel heart attack lawsuit filed by Jesse Mitchell, which was selected as part of a small group of bellwether cases prepared for early trial dates, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries ay respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the testosterone litigation.
There are currently more than 6,500 product liability lawsuits filed against the makers of Androgel, Axiron, Testim and other low testosterone treatments, each raising similar allegations that the drug makers failed to adequately warn men and the medical community about the risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and other injuries.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, the litigation is centralized before U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly in the Northern District of Illinois for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, as part of an MDL (multidistrict litigation).
Failure to Warn About Androgel Risks
Last month, a bellwether trial involving a lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Konrad ended in a mistrial, after one of the lawyers involved in the case suddenly became ill. As a result, the lawsuit filed by Mitchell became the first complete bellwether trial to get to a jury.
Mitchell claimed that he suffered a heart attack due to side effects of Androgel, after using the popular testosterone gel for about four years.
After considering evidence in the trial, which began on July 5, the federal jury in Chicago returned an award of $150 million in punitive damages, but declined to award the plaintiff any compensatory damages for his specific injury.
The contradictory award raises questions about whether the verdict will stand, but still provides insight into how the jury viewed the actions of AbbVie in marketing their “low T” gel without warning about the serious risks men may face.
Testosterone replacement drugs were initially intended to be a niche treatment for men suffering from testosterone deficiency caused by a medical condition, known as hypogonadism. However, amid aggressive marketing for brand name drugs like Androgel, Testim and Axiron, men throughout the U.S. have been widely prescribed the drugs for “lifestyle reasons”, to treat natural drops in testosterone levels as all men age.
As part of the consolidated management of the cases, Judge Kennelly has scheduled several representative cases involving each drug maker for early bellwether trials, before conducting case-specific discovery in thousands of individual lawsuits.
While the outcomes of these early trials are not binding, they are being closely watched by those involved in the litigation, and may influence eventual negotiations to reach testosterone injury settlements, which would be necessary to avoid the need for cases to be remanded to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trials.
A third trial against AbbVie will begin on September 18, followed by a fourth case on January 8, 2018.
Additional bellwether trials have also been scheduled involving lawsuits filed against other drug makers, with the first cases against Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Testim, set to begin in early November 2017 and April 2018.
Following bellwether trials in the MDL, if the parties fail to reach a resolution for the litigation, each individual case may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial dates in the future.