BISMARCK, N.D. - A Mandan family was awarded $2.24 million in a lawsuit against drug company AbbVie, maker of the drug Humira.
Thursday’s award came in the case of Delores Tietz, who started taking Humira for rheumatoid arthritis in October 2009 and took the drug for almost seven months, her family said.
She was diagnosed with Humira-induced histoplasmosis, a life-threatening fungal infection, after 21 days in the hospital.
“We were stunned,” her son, Curtis Tietz, said of the award. “We were pleased with the verdict and the victory it provided my mom.”
Adelle Infante, a spokesperson for AbbVie, said in a statement that the company plans to appeal.
“Humira has more than 15 years of clinical and safety data, with therapeutic risks well documented in the prescribing label,” the statement said. “We will appeal this verdict based in part on the jury’s assessment that the medical community was sufficiently warned about the risk of histoplasmosis.”
In May 2010, Delores Tietz began experiencing chest pain and fevers and was taken to the hospital, her family said. Her condition worsened as her organs began failing, and she went into a coma.
“That was difficult,” her son said.
“We felt somebody should be held responsible for this,” said her husband, Milton Tietz. “It was not really the hospital’s fault and not the doctor’s fault. It was Abbott Laboratories.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert in September 2008 to manufacturers of drugs like Humira to provide new information to doctors about the risk of drug-induced histoplasmosis.
The Tietzes’ attorney said in a statement that Abbott Laboratories, the original makers of Humira before the company split off its research-based pharmaceutical business into the new company AbbVie on Jan. 1, didn’t send a letter directly to treating doctors until May 17, 2010 — 10 days after Delores Tietz was hospitalized.
The jury found AbbVie negligent for not taking reasonable measures to make sure doctors were suspicious enough to check for histoplasmosis. It was the first Humira lawsuit filed against Abbott to go to trial.
After her diagnosis, Delores Tietz began recovering but had to go through physical and speech therapy. She spent a total of 13 months in the hospital, her son said.
Milton Tietz and Delores Tietz grew up only five miles apart, in New Leipzig and Elgin. They moved to Mandan more than a year ago to be closer to the doctors and hospitals. The two were married 50 years before Delores Tietz died of a heart attack in March.
“She was a go-getter; she was a real fighter,” Curtis Tietz said.