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Pfizer Whistleblower Suit Settles For $2.3 Billion

Most lawyers do not know how to pronounce qui tam litigation, much less what it is. After this Pfizer settlement, there is going to be a lot more interest.

(Fun etiological note: it is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro si ipso in hac parte sequitur,” meaning “who sues on behalf of the King as well as for himself”).
Black’s Dictionary defines it as “an action brought by an informer, under a statute which establishes a penalty for the commission or omission of a certain act, and provides that the same shall be recoverable in a civil action, part of the penalty to go to any person who will bring such action and the remainder to the state or some other institution.” BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 1251 (6th ed. 1990).

The suit was brought by five whistleblowers (who will share $102 million of the settlement). The federal criminal probe and civil qui tam lawsuit alleged that Pfizer improperly marketed 13 drugs, including Viagra, Zoloft, Lipitor, and Bextra. New York’s attorney general said that “Pfizer’s corrupt practices went so far as sending physicians on exotic junkets as well as wining and dining health care professionals to persuade them to prescribe the company’s drugs for patients in taxpayer-funded programs.” These practices including overpromoting the drugs for off-label and unapproved uses, which is oftentimes how the drug companies turn a good drug into a blockbuster drug (see the Seroquel example: Foster Care Children and Off-Label Drug Use; Video on Seroquel).
The $2.3 billion fine is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it is the largest such fine ever levied in a United States criminal case. Second, this is the fourth time in ten years that Pfizer has been found guilty of improperly marketing their drugs. For a drug company to keep taking these hits, in addition to the cost of defending lawsuits and paying settlements and verdicts, it must be making money hand over fist. Something like that should bankrupt a company; however, for Pfizer and other members of Big Pharma, this is simply the cost of doing business. The real cost, however, is the untold numbers of people and families who have been devastated by bad drugs. And, guaranteed that Pfizer gets another fine in the next couple of years. Clearly, these fines are not big enough to be a significant deterrent.