What Are the Largest Pharmaceutical Lawsuit Settlements?

GlaxoSmithKline paid the largest pharmaceutical settlement in U.S. history in 2012, with a total payout of $3 billion. The period from 2009-2015 saw several lawsuits with settlements in the billions of dollars and many others in the hundreds of millions range. Much of this was due to enforcements of new and existing laws targeting deceptive practices, unadvertised side-effects, and kickbacks.

While these cases represent the extreme for pharmaceutical settlements, they do show what it is possible to obtain from this type of lawsuit. After all, pharmaceuticals are a trillion-dollar industry that is ostensibly supposed to be in the business of helping people. Deep pockets, combined with a lack of morality leading to harm and even death, can result in very harsh judgments.



In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty and was forced to pay $3 billion as part of a civil and criminal case regarding deceptive business practices around many of their products. The company faced $1 billion in criminal fines due to their failure to disclose the safety data for several of their products and off-label promotion of them for unauthorized uses.

The company also paid $2 billion in civil fines relating to its kickback program and false and misleading statements for one of their products. They also got into hot water for underpaying the MDR Program.

Dangers of Unauthorized Medicine Usage

This case, along with several others at the time, showed the potential dangers that pharmaceutical companies could pose to consumers. Someone could take a medicine based on the recommendation of a pharmaceutical company for a condition it did not have FDA approval for, placing the health of that person at risk.

Taxpayers were also not properly compensated by the pharmaceutical companies for programs such as Medicare. Consumers could face individual health risks and financial losses from taking a medication that was not authorized for their specific use case.

Other Cases That Broke the Billion Dollar Barrier

To most people, $1 million seems like a lot of money. Which, of course, it is. But to a big pharmaceutical company, $1 million is nothing. Paying out a million-dollar settlement does not set them back more than a night on the town does for most people. Less actually. One billion dollars, on the other hand? Now that one hurts.

To date, there have been six cases that resulted in a pharmaceutical company having to shell out over $1 billion, including the GlaxoSmith Kline case.

The other five cases are:

  • Takeda Pharmaceutical – $2.4 billion
  • Pfizer – $2.3 billion
  • Johnson & Johnson – $2.2 billion
  • Abbott Laboratories – $1.5 billion
  • Eli Lilly and Company – $1.4 billion

Takeda Pharmaceutical


The big payment for Takeda Pharmaceutical came in 2015 in relation to its oral diabetes medication Actos. The $2.4 billion settled around 8,000 separate lawsuits against the company concerning the substance.

Takeda marketed the medicine as a safe alternative to Avandia (one of the substance named in the GlaxoSmithKlein settlement). They advertised the product as lowering blood sugar without an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. However, they failed to disclose that the medicine could pose a risk of bladder cancer.



In 2009 Pfizer paid $2.3 billion for illegal promotion of pharmaceutical products. Pfizer marketed several of their products for off-label use and paid healthcare providers to prescribe their medications off-label.

It is legal for a doctor to prescribe a medicine for a reason other than that approved by the FDA, as long as there are credible studies that make them believe the product can benefit their patient in another way. But it is illegal for a medicine company to ever promote off-label or for a doctor to prescribe off-label for reasons of profit.

Pfizer also submitted false claims to government healthcare programs. $1 billion of the settlement money was used to pay Medicare, Medicaid, and other government health insurance progams.

Johnson & Johnson


Here we have another case of off-label marketing, as well as understating the health risks of certain medical products. In 2013 Johnson & Johnson paid $2.2 billion over these and other misconduct charges. $1.72 billion was for settlements while they paid $485 million as a criminal fine.

Abbott Laboratories

After pleading guilty to the unlawful off-label promotion of the prescription product Depakote, Abbott Laboratories ended up paying $800 million in civil settlements along with $700 million in criminal fines and forfeitures.

Eli Lilly and Company

Yet another case of off-label marketing Eli Lilly found itself in trouble for unlawful marketing of its anti-psychotic medicine Zyprexa. In 2009 they were forced to pay a $515 million criminal fine in addition to $800 in civil settlements.

When Can I File a Pharmaceutical Lawsuit?


You may qualify to file a pharmaceutical lawsuit if any of the following describes your situation:

  • You suffered an injury from a medicine
  • There was a defect in the medication, or it lacked a warning for your potential injury
  • Your injury is directly related to your use of the medical product
  • You file a claim within the statute of limitations

In some instances, you may qualify for a claim even if there were warnings for certain side effects. The medicine injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins advise that when taking medication one should exercise caution, even if it was prescribed by a doctor. The medicine could have effects that the doctor is unaware of, either due to manufacturing defects, a lack of testing, or misrepresentation by a pharmaceutical representative. You can click here and find more information about this topic.

What Types of Product Liability Lawsuits Are Open to Me?

There are several different types of product liability lawsuits available to you, depending on your circumstances.

  • Defective Manufacturing: If a product was improperly manufactured, such as with the wrong formulation or through improper storage, you might qualify to sue on this basis.
  • Complications and Side Effects: You may be able to sue if you are experiencing complications or side effects from the medication. Your case will be stronger if these were unlisted on the product’s warning label.
  • False or Inaccurate Marketing: If a medicine was marketed to you falsely or with misrepresentation, you may be able to file a claim.

Should you suffer an injury or face another kind of hardship as a result of your use of a medication, and you meet the requirements to file a lawsuit, it’s important to do so as soon as possible. Any injuries you receive from a medicine can last a lifetime and can impact your future earning potential. A lawyer experienced in pharmaceutical lawsuits can help you seek out the maximum award, either through a settlement or by taking the company to court.

Ricardo is a freelance writer specialized in politics. He is with foreignspolicyi.org from the beginning and helps it grow. Email: richardorland4[at]gmai.com