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National News

Lawsuit Alleges Companies Sold Contaminated Blood Overseas

June 3, 2003

Several hemophiliacs have sued health care giant Bayer Corp. and other companies, claiming they knowingly sold HIV- and hepatitis C-contaminated blood products. The suit, filed in a San Francisco federal court, seeks class action status on behalf of thousands of foreign hemophiliacs.

The plaintiffs allege the companies conspired to sell blood-clotting products that were produced using blood from high-risk, sick donors and distributed them abroad in 1984 and 1985 -- despite stopping U.S. sales because of the known risk of HIV and hepatitis transmission. Monday's suit was filed on behalf of foreigners who received the drug, called Factor VIII concentrate, according to Robert Nelson of Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein, which represents the plaintiffs.

Early in the AIDS epidemic, the drug was made from plasma collected from 10,000 or more donors. Because there was no screening test for HIV at the time, thousands of hemophiliacs were infected. The suit alleges Bayer and the others could have taken precautions but refused. "I don't want to speculate why they did what they did. All I know is they didn't use the techniques that were widely known in the scientific community and went about business as usual as if there wasn't an epidemic in the hemophiliac and gay communities," said Nelson.

Less than two weeks ago, Bayer went on the defensive in response to a New York Times investigation that accused the company of selling old stock of the drug abroad, while marketing a safer product in the United States. The company said it acted responsibly and in line with the best medical knowledge at the time. However, Bayer and three other companies involved settled 15 years of U.S. lawsuits from hemophiliacs, paying about $600 million, the newspaper said.

According to the lawsuit:

  • The contaminated blood products had infected at least 5,000 hemophiliacs in Europe with HIV by 1992.

  • Nearly all infections of hemophiliacs in Japan have been traced to contaminated U.S. blood products.

  • At least 700 HIV cases in Latin America are linked to the use of contaminated blood products by hemophiliacs.

The case is Domenico Gullone et al. v. Bayer Corp. et al., C032572.

Back to other CDC news for June 3, 2003

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Adapted from:
Associated Press
06.03.03; Kim Curtis

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS-Related Legal Cases