Jury awards $100 million to plaintiffs who sued drug-maker over heartburn medicine

By Deborah Bulkeley, Associated Press Writer
Saturday September 29, 2001

PORT GIBSON, Miss. — A jury awarded $100 million Friday to plaintiffs who claimed a drug-maker pushed sales of a heartburn drug even as the federal government moved to ban it. 

Jurors returned the verdict after less than three hours of deliberations in the $1.2 billion lawsuit against drug-maker Janssen and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson. Plaintiffs said they suffered from anxiety, heart conditions and other health problems after using Propulsid. 

The trial was the first in the nation involving Propulsid. Hundreds of other suits are pending nationwide. 

During closing arguments, plaintiffs’ lawyer Jim Shannon said the drug maker changed Propulsid labels five times since 1994 to keep damaging information from the public. He said the companies also launched a marketing campaign to spur sales of the drug two years before it was taken off the market. 

“The quality of their life has been damaged,” Shannon said. “That’s what this is all about — 10 human beings and what happened to them just because a corporation wanted to make money.” 

Robert Johnson III, the drug makers’ lead attorney, said many of the plaintiffs had health problems unrelated to Propulsid and the manufacturer itself alerted the government to potential problems. 

“Janssen provided that information,” Johnson said. “They have 10,000 employees who are good people who work for a company that has been saving people’s lives.” 

Propulsid has been linked to 80 deaths. Janssen took it off the shelves in 2000, but it is still used in limited cases. 

The trial was for the original 10 plaintiffs, out of a total of 155. Each was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages. Circuit Judge Lamar Pickard set a hearing on possible punitive damages Saturday.