A Paris court on Monday handed several hundred million euros in damages and fines to a French pharmaceutical company for its role in one of the largest modern health scandals in the country, including deaths.
The ruling envisaged a judicial marathon targeting Servier Laboratories that involved more than 6,500 plaintiffs. It took the Paris Tribunal almost three hours to read its verdict in full because it was so long. The grand trial spanned 10 months in 2019 and 2020, and nearly 400 lawyers were working on the case.
The focus was on the diabetes drug Mediator. Servier has been accused of putting profits before patients’ welfare by allowing the drug’s widespread and irresponsible prescription as a diet pill – with fatal consequences. Servier argued that he knew nothing about the dangers of the drug.
The court found Servier guilty of manslaughter, involuntary wounding and grave deception. The company was acquitted of fraud.
The judges handed Servier a fine of 2.7 million euros (nearly $ 3.2 million), asking him to pay hundreds of millions more in damages, which will be shared by plaintiffs. The damage due to serious deception alone amounted to almost 159 million euros. Additional large payments were made for the manslaughter and wounding charges.
The court also imposed a four-year suspended sentence and fines on the only surviving serving manager charged with involvement, Dr. Jean-Philippe Seta.
According to a 2010 study, Mediator has been suspected of causing up to 2,000 deaths in the 33 years it has been in the market, with doctors linking it to heart and lung problems. Some survivors suffered serious health complications that required a heart transplant and other medical interventions after taking the drug as a starvation suppressant.
A doctor raised concerns back in 1998 and said he was bullied into withdrawing them. Servier asked questions about the drug’s side effects from medical authorities in Switzerland, Spain and Italy and withdrew it from those markets between 1997 and 2004.
Servier’s attorneys argued that the company was unaware of the risks associated with Mediator before 2009, saying the company never claimed it was a diet pill. They had fought for acquittal.
An independent investigation was conducted by another concerned French doctor before the company ceased sales in its main market in France in 2009. It wasn’t sold in the US.
The company’s CEO and founder, Jacques Servier, was charged at the start of the trial but died in 2014.