A federal jury in Ohio has awarded $5 million in the first case to go to trial in the multidistrict litigation involving patients who claim injury from the body scan contrast agent gadolinium. The jury found that GE Healthcare failed to provide adequate warnings of the health risk posed to those with impaired kidney function from Omniscan. As we have reported, the GE product is a gadolinium-based contrast dye used in MRIs and other imaging scans. The plaintiff in the case, Paul Decker, contracted a debilitating skin disease — nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) — as a result of being injected with Omniscan for a magnetic resonance angiogram in 2005. At the time, Decker was also undergoing dialysis for end-stage kidney disease.
Drug makers GE Healthcare, Bayer and Covidien have faced hundreds of lawsuits claiming injuries from gadolinium-based contrast agent products. In June 2006, the FDA issued its first warning about the risk of NSF as a result of gadolinium exposure. The risk is unique to people already suffering from renal failure.
Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a progressive, sometimes fatal, disease that involves the hardening of the skin and tissue growth along joints, eyes and internal organs. Sadly, there is no treatment for NSF. Mr. Decker experienced the locking of his arms at the elbow joints, and the contraction of his hands, wrists and fingers. His lower extremities became basically like stone or wood and he now requires 24-hour care.
In February 2012, this product liability lawsuit against GE Healthcare became one of the nearly 1,000 federal cases consolidated in multidistrict litigation before Judge Evan Polster in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland. At one time, there were almost 1,000 cases in the gadolinium MDL, but the vast majority of the cases have been settled, including each of the cases set for bellwether trials. There were only about 10 unresolved cases left in the MDL. But GE Healthcare was unable to settle Mr. Decker’s case, making it the first to go to trial.
The jury found GE Healthcare liable for providing inadequate warnings, but rejected design defect and misrepresentation claims. The jury awarded Mr. Decker $1 million for economic losses and $3.5 million for non-economic losses. His wife received $500,000 for loss of consortium.
GE Healthcare understood the risk back in 2005. GE clearly had studies that let them know that this was a toxin, that once it entered the body and stayed there, it would cause these unimaginable effects. Unfortunately, they chose not to share that information with physicians.
The Plaintiffs were represented by Christopher V. Tisi, Michelle A. Parfitt and Brianne Rideout of Ashcraft & Gerel LLP in Washington and William Hawal and Peter J. Brodhead of Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP in Cleveland, Ohio. These lawyes did a very good job in the case. The case is Decker v. GE Healthcare in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.