A former Abbott Laboratories sales-director-turned-whistleblower told a Texas federal jury Friday he reported the company to federal investigators in an earnest belief it was best for the U.S. health care system, during a $219 million trial over allegedly false Medicare claims.
Kevin Colquitt, who worked for Abbott’s Guidant unit from 2004 to 2006, contends the company improperly marketed stents that were cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only for implantation in bile ducts, to the much larger market for vascular stents, or those implanted in arteries. In a trial that opened Tuesday, Colquitt is arguing Abbott is responsible for about 40,000 false claims submitted to Medicare for vascular stent procedures that used the biliary stents, while Abbott is defending the practice and saying doctors across the country used biliary stents for vascular procedures during Colquitt’s tenure at the company because they were a better product.
On the witness stand Friday, Colquitt told jurors he filed his whistleblower complaint in an attempt to end what he saw as a dishonest practice, to improve health care, and because he had concerns about patient safety. Colquitt, who began law school at Georgetown University Law Center during his last year at Abbott and now works for the firm that represents him in the False Claims Act suit, filed the claim a few months after leaving Abbott.
On cross-examination, Abbott suggested to jurors it was Colquitt’s desire for a big payday that prompted the suit against Abbott, which in 2006 bought the vascular device division of Guidant Corp. for $4.1 billion. Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s Andrew Kassof repeatedly reminded the jury that Colquitt could pocket 25 to 30 percent of damages awarded in the trial.
“I’m asking the jury to hold Guidant accountable for the full measure of damages it caused the United States,” Colquitt said.
“And you get 25 to 30 percent of that, right?” Kassof countered.
“That’s what the rules provide,” Colquitt said.
Kassof also questioned Colquitt about why he did not sue Gore Medical, the medical device company he worked for before Abbott, which also marketed stents for off-label purposes at the time. Kassof suggested it was because Gore had a smaller market share than the much-larger Abbott. Colquitt said he first learned that Gore’s stents were not approved for vascular use during a deposition in the Abbott case.
Colquitt also told jurors he had seen several Abbott stents malfunction out of the hundreds he sold while working for the Guidant unit, with some doctors refusing to use any of the company's stents again.
Colquitt’s complaint, which had been sealed until January 2010, also targeted Johnson & Johnson’s Cordis Corp. and Boston Scientific Corp., alleging each company directed doctors to seek reimbursements from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for implanting vascular stents when biliary stents were actually used.
U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn in 2013 cut loose J&J and Boston Scientific from the suit, but denied several attempts by Abbott to avoid a trial. The federal government chose not to intervene in the case but will receive the bulk of any money won by Colquitt.
Colquitt is represented by Christopher Hamilton and Meagan Martin of Standly and Hamilton LLP, Andrew Beato and David Fierst of Stein Mitchell Muse Cipollone & Beato LLP, Kelly Bagby of AARP Foundation Litigation, and Robert Langdon and Adam Graves of Langdon & Emison LLC.
Abbott is represented by Jim Hurst, Andrew Kassof, Elizabeth Hess and James Hileman of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and George Bramblett and Jeremy Kernodle of Haynes and Boone LLP.
The case is U.S. ex rel. Colquitt v. Abbott Laboratories et al., case number 3:06-cv-01769, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
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