Contaminated Heparin Lawsuit Awarded 625,000 By Cook County Jury – Johansen v. Baxter International

The first case to go to trial in the series of Cook County pharmaceutical negligence lawsuits against Baxter International received a $625,000 verdict against the pharmaceutical manufacturer. The Illinois lawsuit of Estate of Johansen v. Baxter International, Inc., et al., 09 L 11175, was filed after the plaintiff, Steven Johansen, died as a result of receiving contaminated Heparin distributed by the defense.

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against Deerfield-based Baxter International, Inc. and Scientific Protein Laboratories, its supplier, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered that the companies had been selling contaminated Heparin. The tainted Heparin was discovered to contain oversulfated chondroitin sulfate, which is a synthetic chemical created from animal cartilage that is typically distributed as a dietary supplement. According to tests run by the FDA, the false chemical mimics the real drug, Heparin.

However, not only does the oversulfated chondroitin sulfate not have the same blood thinning effects of Heparin, but can actually cause adverse reactions in patients taking it. The synthetic chemical has been found to cause vomiting, difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and other severe reactions. The plaintiff, Steven Johansen, first received low doses of the contaminated Heparin during dialysis treatment in December 2007, with no obvious reaction. However, Johansen later received a second, much higher dose of the contaminated Heparin, which resulted in his death five days later.

Investigations by the FDA traced the tainted Heparin to pharmaceutical plants in China. At least a dozen Chinese factories were responsible for manufacturing the Heparin, which was then sold to Scientific Protein, which in turn supplied the medication to Baxter. This discovery by the FDA resulted in an import ban on the Heparin manufactured in China. In addition, the FDA increased its regulatory oversight of all drug companies with manufacturing plants or supply chains in China.

In attempts to demonstrate that the pharmaceutical companies were liable for the Chinese plants’ negligence, plaintiff’s attorney argued that the defendants were aware that neither the FDA or Chinese regulatory officials ever inspected the Chinese plants. Yet, despite their knowledge of the lack of regulatory oversight, neither Baxter or Scientific Protein established their own quality control specifications in order to secure the safety of their supply chain in China. In addition, the plaintiff submitted into evidence internal records from the defendant drug companies that referred to the Chinese Heparin as “the cheap stuff,” in an effort to demonstrate that the defendants jeopardized safety for profit.

The evidence presented by the decedent’s attorney left little doubt as to the pharmaceutical companies’ negligence. As a result, the Cook County judge stated that the it was a matter of law that the heparin manufactured by Scientific Protein and sold by Baxter International was defective and ordered a partial directed verdict in favor of the decedent’s estate. When something is considered a matter of law, it is a legal question that is to be answered by a judge rather than a jury.

However, while the judge decided the question of the pharmaceutical companies’ negligence, the jury was still responsible for awarding damages to Johansen’s estate. The Cook County jury awarded $625,000 to the decedent’s estate as payment for his “pain and suffering” during the five days before his death. After receiving the high dose of contaminated Heparin during his dialysis treatment, Johansen was treated for vasculitis, acute renal failure, and pneumonia that eventually led to his overwhelming sepsis.

The Johansen verdict is significant because it is the first Heparin lawsuit against Baxter that went to trial. Prior to the contaminated Heparin recall, it was linked to over 750 severe allergic reactions and 81 deaths; many of those patients have taken legal action against the pharmaceutical companies. While one other Cook County Heparin lawsuit against Baxter settled for an undisclosed amount prior to the Johansen trial, the current Cook County verdict is the first in what should be a long line of verdicts against Baxter.

Pharmaceutical litigation deals with lawsuits that arise out of injuries or deaths that result from taking dangerous pharmaceutical products. For over 35 years, Kreisman Law Offices has been handling pharmaceutical defect litigation in Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Naperville, Des Plaines, Crestwood, Harwood Heights, Itasca, Burr Ridge, Grayslake and Batavia.

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