Paris court convicts, fines pharma firm for deadly diet pill

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Doctor Irene Frachon, who discovered that the drug Mediator could have fatal side effect, speaks to reporters as she walks out at a Paris courthouse, Monday, March 29, 2021. A Paris court handed hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in damages and fines to French pharmaceutical company Servier Laboratories on Monday for its role in one of the nation's biggest modern health scandals, finding it guilty of manslaughter and other charges for selling a diabetes drug blamed for hundreds of deaths. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS – A French pharmaceutical company on Monday was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of euros in damages and fines for its role in one of the nation’s biggest modern health scandals, with a Paris court finding the firm guilty of manslaughter and other charges for selling a diabetes drug blamed for hundreds of deaths.

The ruling capped a judicial marathon targeting Servier Laboratories and involving more than 6,500 plaintiffs. The Paris tribunal took nearly three hours to read out its verdict totaling 1,988 pages.

The huge trial was spread over 10 months in 2019 and 2020, and nearly 400 lawyers worked on the case. Exceptionally, the Paris tribunal was also connected by video link Monday to a courthouse in Montpellier, southern France, so dozens of plaintiffs there could also see the delivery of the verdict.

The case centered on the diabetes drug Mediator. Servier was accused of putting profits ahead of patients’ welfare by allowing the drug to be widely and irresponsibly prescribed as a diet pill — with deadly consequences. Servier argued that it didn’t know about the drug’s dangers.

The court found Servier guilty of manslaughter, involuntary wounding and aggravated deception. The judges’ ruling said the firm hid the drug’s hunger-suppressant side effects from medical regulators. The court acquitted Servier of fraud.

Also found guilty and fined for manslaughter and unintentional injury was the French medicines agency, now reformed and renamed. It was accused of failing to take adequate measures to protect patients and of being too close to Servier. Lawyers for the agency said it acknowledged some responsibility but also was misled by Servier.

Judges handed Servier a fine of 2.7 million euros (nearly $3.2 million) and ordered it to pay hundreds of millions more in damages to be shared out among plaintiffs. Damages for aggravated deception alone totaled nearly 159 million euros. And other hefty payments were awarded for the manslaughter and wounding charges.

The court also handed a suspended four-year prison sentence and fines to the only surviving Servier executive accused of involvement, Dr. Jean-Philippe Seta.