A Paris court handed hundreds of millions of euros in damages and fines to a French pharmaceutical company on Monday for its role in one of the nation’s biggest modern health scandals, finding it guilty of manslaughter and other charges for selling a diabetes drug blamed for hundreds of deaths.
The ruling capped a judicial marathon targeting Servier Laboratories and involving more than 6,500 plaintiffs. The Paris tribunal took nearly three hours to read out its verdict in full, because it was so long. The huge trial was spread over 10 months in 2019 and 2020, and nearly 400 lawyers worked on the case.
It centered on the diabetes drug Mediator. Servier was accused of putting profits ahead of patients’ welfare by allowing the drug to be widely and irresponsibly prescribed as a diet pill — with deadly consequences. Servier argued that it didn’t know about the drug’s dangers.
The court found Servier guilty of manslaughter, involuntary wounding and aggravated deception. The firm was acquitted of fraud.
Judges handed Servier a fine of 2.7 million euros (nearly $3.2 million) and ordered it to pay hundreds of millions more in damages that will be shared out by plaintiffs. Damages for aggravated deception alone totaled nearly 159 million euros. And other hefty payments were being awarded for the manslaughter and wounding charges.
The court also handed a suspended four-year prison sentence and fines to the only surviving Servier executive accused of involvement, Dr. Jean-Philippe Seta.
A 2010 study said Mediator was suspected in up to 2,000 deaths, with doctors linking it to heart and lung problems, in the 33 years that it was on the market. Some survivors suffered severe health complications, requiring heart transplants and other medical procedures, after taking the drug as a hunger suppressant.
One doctor flagged concerns as far back as 1998, and testified that he was bullied into retracting them. Facing questions about the drug’s side effects from medical authorities in Switzerland, Spain and Italy, Servier withdrew it from those markets between 1997 and 2004.
Lawyers for Servier argued that the company wasn’t aware of the risks associated with Mediator before 2009, and said the company never claimed it was a diet pill. They had argued for acquittal.
It took an independent investigation by another worried French doctor before the company suspended sales in its main market in France in 2009. It wasn’t sold in the U.S.
The company’s CEO and founder, Jacques Servier, was indicted early in the legal process but died in 2014.