Biggest US Pharmaceutical Lawsuits

Pharmaceutical companies have an obligation to produce safe medications and to market and distribute them ethically. When they act selfishly or without comprehensive testing, the long-term ramifications on consumers can be devastating.

Selling harmful drugs has led to countless eye-wateringly expensive lawsuits for pharmaceutical companies, both in the past and the present. Let’s dive into three of the most expensive pharmaceutical lawsuits in US history.

Abbott Laboratories, 2012: $1.5 Billion

Abbott Laboratories was founded more than 132 years ago and previously had quite a clean legal record, as far as pharma companies are concerned. However, the legal issues they have faced have been incredibly expensive to resolve.

In 2012, Abbott Laboratories was fined $1.5 billion thanks to off-label promotion. This means that they were advertising treatment for conditions that the promoted medication wasn’t approved for by the FDA. Depakote, the drug in question, is used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder; however, it was being promoted for a host of other conditions, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more. 

Alongside the staggering fine, Abbott also had to go on probation for 5 years with constant court supervision.

Pfizer, 2009: $2.3 Billion

In 2009, Pfizer made history by being landed with what was then the biggest criminal fine in US history at $2.3 billion.

Much like Abbott Laboratories, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer got into trouble for off-label promotion, trying to sell the painkiller Bextra for conditions that it wasn’t approved for. Not only that, but the company had been illegally promoting several other medications in the same manner, and they had colluded with healthcare providers to ensure the medications were prescribed for conditions not approved by the FDA.

The total amount they paid covered a criminal fine, repayments to Medicare, Medicaid, and other government organizations to make up for insurance falsifications, and payments to whistleblowers.

GlaxoSmithKline, 2012: $3 Billion

While Pfizer made history in 2009, GlaxoSmithKline is the current holder of the largest criminal fine in US history. Although pharmaceutical lawsuits often involve other issues such as undisclosed side effects, like the other companies on this list, GSK was prosecuted for using off-label promotion to sell more products. Their underhanded promotion involved the antidepressant drugs Paxil and Wellbutrin.

They were also caught underpaying rebates under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program and pushing doctors to promote their products to their patients. This resulted in a $3 billion fine and a huge reputational drop.

Current Pharmaceutical Battles

Although hopefully no one’s trying to beat GlaxoSmithKline’s expensive claim to infamy, there are, unfortunately, still pharmaceutical lawsuits in process today due to the malpractice, negligence, and misinformation spread by major companies. Purdue Pharma is already threatening to blow the most expensive lawsuit spot out of the water with talk of a $12 billion settlement for opioid crisis cases.

Opioid lawsuits are holding pharma companies, dispensaries, and retail pharmacies accountable for underrepresenting the addictive nature of opioid medications, which has led to severe overprescription and devastating addiction for millions of people and death for hundreds of thousands.

Another recent example of a large-scale pharmaceutical suit involves Janssen Pharmaceuticals and the bladder drug Elmiron. The medication was found to have side effects that permanently damaged many patients’ vision, when there had been no warning of these side effects on labels or in advertisements. Elmiron lawsuit lawyers are holding the company accountable by seeking compensation for affected patients.