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Drug maker settles Avandia wrongful death lawsuit

GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Avandia, has settled a federal case that alleged the Avandia diabetes drug led to a fatal heart attack. As is often the case in civil lawsuits, the settlement was reached just before the case was scheduled to go to a jury trial.

The wrongful death lawsuit involved James Burford, who died in 2006. Burford took Avandia for 15 months to treat diabetes before suffering a fatal heart attack in his home. He was 49 years old at the time of his death. Burford's widow alleged the drug maker knew or should have known about Avandia's dangerous side effects, including cardiac arrest and death. The lawsuit alleged failure to warn, breach of warranty, negligence, unfair trade practices and infliction of emotional distress.

The Burford lawsuit was the first Avandia lawsuit scheduled for trial. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. However, GlaxoSmithKline has set aside a substantial amount of money to cover anticipated damages from Avandia lawsuits. In January, GlaxoSmithKline announced it was setting aside an additional $3.5 billion to cover the expenses from Avandia litigation. In the last 12 months, the drug maker has set aside a total of $6.4 billion to cover the legal costs associated with Avandia.

Avandia was once one of GlaxoSmithKline's most lucrative products, generating $3 billion in sales per year. However, the drug was linked to heart attack risks in a study in 2007 and sales of the drug have significantly dropped since. In September 2010, GlaxoSmithKline announced it would stop promoting Avandia worldwide after regulators said sales of the drug would be substantially limited in the United States.

GlaxoSmithKline still faces at least 1,600 lawsuits in federal court and another 400 lawsuits in state courts around the nation.

Sources: Westlaw News and Insight, "GSK settles Avandia heart attack case before trial," Ben Hirschler, 1/31/2011

Bloomberg, "Glaxo Suit on Avandia Heart Attack Death Settled on Trial's Eve," Jef Feeley, 1/31/2011

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