Jury slaps Takeda, Lilly with massive $9B in damages in Actos cancer case


A Louisiana jury pummeled Takeda Pharmaceutical and Eli Lilly ($LLY) with $9 billion in punitive damages, in a liability suit over their blockbuster diabetes drug Actos. It's one for the record books, an amount so far beyond normal that even the victorious lawyers discounted it.

Still, plaintiff's lawyer Mark Lanier told Bloomberg, the jury's verdict should be a wake-up call for Takeda. "I hope Takeda executives in Japan heard what this jury had to say loudly and clearly," Lanier said (as quoted by the news service).

The lawsuit was the first Actos claim to hit federal court, among a group of claims linking Actos with bladder cancer. More than 2,700 Actos suits have been consolidated in U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty's Louisiana court, Bloomberg says.

At the state level, Takeda has fought off three lawsuits so far. Juries in two state-level cases levied a total of $8.2 million in damages to Actos patients who later developed bladder cancer, but the judges in both suits threw out the decisions. A third jury determined that Takeda did not fail to warn about Actos risks. Hundreds more state-level lawsuits remain, however.

In the Louisiana case, former Actos user Terrence Allen said he developed bladder cancer after using the diabetes-fighter for more than 5 years. The suit claimed that Takeda downplayed an increase in bladder cancer risk associated with Actos and misled regulators about the dangers. Allen started taking the drug in 2006, and a bladder-cancer warning was not added to Actos' official labeling till 2011.

Allen was asking for at least $15 million in damages, Lanier told Bloomberg before the trial.

The jury came down on Allen's side, with a verdict in his favor and $1.5 million in compensatory damages. When the jury revealed the punitive damages--$6 billion for Takeda, $3 billion for Lilly--the only response was "stunned silence," Lanier told Reuters.

Takeda quickly said it would fight the award, with whatever post-trial motions and appeal strategies it has at its disposal. "We intend to vigorously challenge this outcome through all available legal means," General Counsel Kenneth Greisman said in a statement.

At the very least, the punitive damages are likely to be knocked down--and significantly. As Bloomberg notes, the Supreme Court has said punitive damages should be proportional to actual, compensatory damages--possibly 10 times the amount of compensation.

Allen's legal team high-fived when the verdict was announced, but "[n]obody has gone out and bought a new home," Lanier told Reuters, adding, "We're not under any grand illusion."

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