U.S. jury orders DaVita to pay $383.5 million in wrongful death lawsuits

(Reuters) - A federal jury in Colorado has awarded $383.5 million to the families of three patients who said they suffered cardiac arrests and died soon after receiving dialysis treatments at clinics run by DaVita Inc.

FILE PHOTO: The outdoor sign seen at the DaVita Dialysis clinic in Denver February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

The jury in Denver decided on Wednesday that DaVita was negligent and concealed facts from the patients regarding GranuFlo, a product that lawyers for the families claimed the company knew could cause toxic pH imbalances.

Jurors awarded the families of deceased patients Irma Menchaca, Gary Saldana and Deborah Hardin compensatory damages of $2 million, $1.5 million and $5 million, respectively, and $125 million to each family in punitive damages.

Denver-based DaVita said late Wednesday it disagreed with the “unjust” verdict and plans to appeal.

“Our first priority is the safety of our patients,” DaVita said. “Our clinical outcomes - among the best in the industry - demonstrate our commitment to providing the highest level of care.”

The wrongful death lawsuits were filed after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 issued a recall of GranuFlo, a product made by Fresenius Medical Care that helps remove waste products and maintain proper pH balance in a patient’s blood.

Excess acetate contained in GranuFlo could lead to metabolic alkalosis, a condition in which blood pH level is too high and is associated with an increased risk of stroke or heart attack, lawyers for the families said.

The families contended DaVita failed to inspect and review the composition of GranuFlo.

“DaVita ignored many red flags that preceded the loss of life of these three patients and many others,” Rob Carey, a lawyer for the families, said in a statement.

The case is White et al v. DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Colorado, No. 15-cv-02106.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe