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Main Content: Pfizer lawsuit (re Nigeria)

Case profile: Pfizer lawsuit (re Nigeria)

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In 1996, Pfizer conducted a drug trial in Kano, Nigeria during an epidemic of bacterial meningitis.  The company tested an experimental antibiotic drug, Trovan, on about 200 children during this time.

United States lawsuits
In 2001, a group of Nigerian minors and their guardians sued Pfizer in US federal court under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) alleging that the company violated customary international law by administering Trovan to minors in Kano during the meningitis outbreak.  The plaintiffs in Abdullahi v. Pfizer claim that the drug was given without the informed consent of the children and their parents.  The plaintiffs further claim that the drug trial led to the deaths of 11 children and serious injuries to many others.  A second US lawsuit was filed against Pfizer, Adamu v. Pfizer, in November 2002.  These plaintiffs were also a group of Nigerians injured in the Trovan drug trial.  The Adamu plaintiffs alleged similar violations under ATCA and violations of Connecticut law.  Both of these cases were dismissed in 2005 on grounds of forum non conveniens (inconvenient forum – information on this legal doctrine available here) and failure to state a claim under ATCA.  According to the judge, the plaintiffs had failed to show a sufficient legal source for an international prohibition of non-consensual medical treatment.

In January 2009, the US court of appeals reversed the lower courts’ dismissal of the case. (The two lawsuits have been consolidated.)  A divided court found that the prohibition of non-consensual medical experimentation on humans is binding under customary international law.  In July 2009, Pfizer petitioned the US Supreme Court asking it to hear an appeal of the Court of Appeals' January 2009 ruling.  In November 2009 the Supreme Court asked the US Solicitor General to submit a brief to the court in this case.  In May 2010 the Solicitor General submitted this brief to the court urging the court to deny Pfizer's petition.

On February 23, 2011, the parties announced that they had reached a settlement in this lawsuit.  The terms of the settlement are confidential.  A joint statement issued by the parties explained that the plaintiffs in the US lawsuit will join the ongoing Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund process which is being managed by an independent board of trustees in Kano, Nigeria. 

Nigerian legal proceedings
In 2001 a group of Nigerians sued Pfizer in the Federal High Court in Kano.  The plaintiffs in this case, Zango v. Pfizer International, alleged that Pfizer’s drug trials were illegal.  However, after severe delays, the plaintiffs elected to withdraw this case.  Some of the Zango plaintiffs were part of the Adamu action in the US. 

In May 2007, the state of Kano brought criminal charges and civil claims against Pfizer seeking over $2 billion in damages and restitution.  Settlement talks have been ongoing since November 2007.  In late January 2009, the state court adjourned the case until late February to allow more time for the parties to reach a settlement out of court.  In a separate action, the Nigerian federal government filed suit against Pfizer and several of its employees in June 2007 seeking nearly $7 billion in damages for the deaths of children involved in the Trovan drug trial.  In late January 2009, the Nigerian federal government informed the court that it has agreed with Pfizer to settle the lawsuit out of court.  In April 2009, the Kano state government and Pfizer announced that they have reached an agreement on the broad terms of an out-of-court settlement.  Pfizer and Kano state reached a final settlement in August 2009.  The parties agreed to a settlement figure of $75 million.  The amount of the settlement will be broken down as follows: $35 million to establish a fund for people that participated in the drug trial, $30 million will underwrite health care initiatives in Kano state and $10 million will be allocated to pay the state's legal costs.

Following reports of problems in the distribution of the settlement funds to families of the victims, Pfizer announced in August 2011 that it had made its first payments to families of four children who had died following the Trovan clinical trial. 

In November 2013, 186 victims filed a new lawsuit in a Federal High Court in Kano in which they argue Pfizer is allegedly in breach of the 2009 settlement agreement for limiting the criteria for compensation. 

- "Pfizer pays out to Nigerian families of drug trial victims", David Smith, Guardian [UK], 12 Aug 2011
- "Pfizer Settles Lawsuits Over Drug Trials on Children in Nigeria", Sue Reisinger, Corporate Counsel, 23 Feb 2011
- "Pfizer settles drug testing case with Nigerian state for $75 million", Ross Todd, American Lawyer, 3 Aug 2009
- "Pfizer reaches settlement in notorious Nigerian drug trial", Joe Stephens, Washington Post, 4 Apr 2009
- “Attorney Continues Long Battle With Pfizer Over Nigerian Drug Experiments”, Douglas S. Malan, Connecticut Law Tribune [USA], 12 Feb 2009
- “Split 2nd Circuit Revives Nigerian Families' Claims Against Pfizer Over Drug Tests”, Daniel Wise, New York Law Journal, 2 Feb 2009
- “Fed Govt, Pfizer opt for out-of-court settlement”, The Nation [Nigeria], 27 Jan 2009
- “Pfizer Drug Trial Case In Nigeria To Restart Feb 25”, AFP, 28 Jan 2009
- “Nigeria sues drugs giant Pfizer”, BBC News, 5 Jun 2007
- “Pfizer faces criminal charges in Nigeria”, Joe Stephens, Washington Post, 30 May 2007

- Pfizer: [PDF] Pfizer responds to divided ruling by U.S. Court of appeals for 2nd circuit in cases related to Trovan study in Nigeria, 30 Jan 2009
- Pfizer: [PDF] Pfizer issued the following statement in response to legal action taken against the company by the Nigerian government, 29 May 2007

- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Brief for the United States as amicus curiae, Solicitor General, US Department of Justice, 30 May 2010
- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Reply Brief for Petitioner, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP, 25 Aug 2009
- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Brief in Opposition, Altschuler & Altschuler, Milberg LLP, 10 Aug 2009
- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP, 8 jul 2009
- US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit: [PDF] Rabi Abdullahi v. Pfizer, Inc., 30 Jan 2009 [decision reversing lower court’s dismissals]
- US District Court for the Southern District of New York:
     - [PDF] Adamu v. Pfizer, Inc., 8 Nov 2005 [dismissal]
     - [PDF] Abdullahi v. Pfizer, Inc., 9 Aug 2005 [dismissal]

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