U.S. jury finds AbbVie liable for misrepresentation in AndroGel verdict

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal jury in Chicago on Monday found AbbVie Inc fraudulently misrepresented the risks of its testosterone replacement drug AndroGel and ordered the drugmaker to pay $150 million in punitive damages.

The verdict, which came in response to a lawsuit Jesse Mitchell and his wife filed in 2014, is the first in response to over 6,000 pending lawsuits that have been consolidated in federal court in Chicago.

The decision in the Mitchell case is the first in a series of test trials aimed at helping plaintiffs and manufacturers of AndroGel gauge the range of damages and define a legal strategy and settlement options. These so-called bellwether trials are often used in product liability where hundreds of people have similar claims.

The jury said AbbVie was not negligent or strictly liable for a heart attack Mitchell suffered after taking AndroGel, but said the company falsely marketed the drug.

It did not award Mitchell compensatory damages for his injuries and losses.

“The jury found that AndroGel did not cause any damage,” AbbVie said in a statement. The company said that it did not expect the punitive damage award to stand, without providing further details.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the jury’s decision to award punitive damages without granting compensatory damages was “extremely unusual.”

“Usually you can’t recover punitive damages without having any compensatory damages,” Tobias said.

Tobias, who focuses on mass torts and product liability, said the drugmaker is certain to appeal the verdict.

But he said that the verdict did not bode well for AbbVie’s remaining trials.

“The fact that a jury awarded punitive damages may encourage plaintiffs and their lawyers to bring on more cases and pursue them even more aggressively.”

The company’s stock was at $73.9, down 0.96 percent or 72 cents.

Mitchell suffered a heart attack in 2012 after almost five years of treatment with AndroGel, but recovered after several months, according to the lawsuit he filed.

Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Andrew Hay and Diane Craft