Pfizer lawsuit (re Nigeria)

In 2001, a group of Nigerian minors and their guardian sued Pfizer in US court alleging the company violated customary international law by administering an experimental drug to Nigerian minors. In 2011, the parties announced they had reached a settlement in this lawsuit. 


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.  The hearings started in May 2014. In November 2014, Pfizer paid out compensation to victims of the 1996 Trovan clinical trial as set forth in the 2009 settlement agreement.

- "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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1 December 2014

Nigeria: Pfizer compensates victims of experimental drug, Trovan, administered "without adequate prior consent"

Author: This Day (Nigeria)

'The day Pfizer's Trovan victims got compensatation', 26 Nov 2014:...[V]ictims of Pfizer’s experimental antibiotic, Trovan, can now smile after the final compensation paid by the multinational pharmaceutical company...In 1996, Pfizer tested the experimental antibiotic Trovan on children during a meningitis outbreak without receiving adequate prior consent...[resulting in] the death of...11 children and harm to dozens of others in the 200-patient trial in Kano...Pfizer in 2009 reached a separate $75 million settlement with Kano State oversee the underwriting of several health care initiatives...[to] benefit the people of the state... [including a] Diagnostic and Disease Control Centre...[with] facilities including: public health laboratory, micro biological reference laboratory, diagnostic centre, 100 beds patient ward facility, ultra-modern kitchen and dining facility, staff quarters and mortuary...The state-of-the-art medical facility...provides facilities for the training of medical doctors and other key health care professionals in the country...

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14 November 2014

India: Journal article highlights lack of accountability of pharmaceutical companies in clinical trials

Author: Carolijn Terwindt, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), in Health Rights Litigation Vol. 16, issue 2

"Health Rights Litigation Pushes for Accountability in Clinical Trials in India", Dec 2014

…As an example of health rights litigation, this article highlights proceedings before the Indian Supreme Court…which addresses the lack of protection of trial subjects. The Court has shown its willingness to take this issue seriously, having urged the Indian Government to advance the regulatory framework on clinical trials. However, full enforcement of relevant standards should…also include private organizations conducting clinical trials (‘trial sponsors’) and pharmaceutical companies that benefit from the results…Less attention has been given to the legal obligations of the organizations responsible for the clinical trials. Due to a lack of legislative detail and the dearth of relevant case law, these obligations lack specific standards detailing what it means, for example, to “verify that informed consent is taken properly” or “implement a proper monitoring system.” An amicus curiae intervention in the ongoing Indian proceedings calls on the Supreme Court to clarify these standards and order European and American companies to comply…[Refers to GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer]

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16 October 2014

Nigeria: Ruling on lawsuit against Pfizer over damages caused by alleged illegal drug testing scheduled for October

Author: Joe Nwankwo, Daily Independent (Nigeria)

"Nigeria: Court Fixes October 27 for Ruling On Pfizer's Trovan Case", 14 Oct 2014

A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, on Monday, fixed October 27 for ruling in a case filed against pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer, by 186 plaintiffs allegedly affected by an experimental drug, Trovan, on about 200 children in 1996 in Kano...At the resumed hearing of the matter, Pfizer through its lawyer, Anthony Idigbe, had challenged the amended writ of summons and statement of claim filed on behalf of the plaintiffs...Pfizer told the court that the plaintiffs cannot change the fact in the middle of the argument. Pfizer, according to Idigbe, had reconstructed and tried to restructure the facts of the case. According to Pfizer, "this new and latest legal action before the FCT High Court, Abuja, is completely groundless and prohibited by unconditional releases signed by these same plaintiffs and delivered to Pfizer as a condition of their resolution of similar past litigation."

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1 May 2014

Hearing against US drug corporation starts in Nigeria

Author: Danjuma Abdullahi, Press TV (Iran)

The hearing is underway in the case against Pfizer pharmaceuticals which was refiled by members of the Trovan Victims Forum. The families claim the American pharmaceutical corporation has not compensated them as it agreed to, following an out of court settlement in 2009…Pfizer had agreed to pay seventy five million dollars following the illegal testing of antibiotic Trovan on two hundred Nigerian children in 1996 which caused the death of 11 children and left many deformed. But the victims’ families say that Pfizer did not follow the terms of the agreement as it introduced a stringent DNA testing and other criteria as preconditions for paying the compensation. Under the out of court settlement agreement, Pfizer was obliged to spend thirty thousand dollars on building a children's hospital in Kano and to pay another thirty five thousand dollars as compensation…

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5 February 2014

Nigeria: Pfizer Drug Test Victims File Fresh Suit

Author: Adelanwa Bamgboye & John Chuks Azu, Daily Trust (Nigeria)

One hundred and eighty six victims of the 1996 Pfizer Trovan clinical trial...have filed fresh suit...challenging alleged breach of terms of settlement over the damages suffered in the drugs tests...In the motion...[the claimants] are demanding a total sum of N131 million to be paid separately as general damages...They contend that limiting the criteria for compensation to only the DNA tests...shut out many victims and breached the terms of agreement...Counsel to Pfizer...brought a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court...Justice Adebukola Banjoko ordered the inclusion of Bode Technology...-the firm which conducted the DNA tests on claimants- in the ongoing settlement discussions...[Also refers to Pfizer Specialties (part of Pfizer)]

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30 September 2013

[PDF] Out of Bounds - Accountability for Corporate Human Rights Abuse After Kiobel

Author: EarthRights International

This report presents a summary of the history, jurisprudence and politics of the [Alien Tort Statute (ATS)], explaining how this obscure law became one of the most important and hotly contested tools in the area of business and human rights and the target of attack by the corporate lobby, the Bush Administration, and eventually even the Obama Administration. We track the rise of the ATS through its highs, including the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Sosa v. Alvarez Machain, to its recent holding in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell). We consider the future of ATS claims and other avenues for human rights litigation more broadly in light of the holding, and conclude that new tools are needed to fulfill U.S. obligations to hold corporations accountable. [Also refers to Arab Bank, CACI, Chevron, Chiquita, Cisco, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Rio Tinto, Total, Unocal (part of Chevron).]

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13 July 2012

Pfizer presents N19.6m to Kano drug test victim [Nigeria]

Author: Adeola Ajakaiye, BusinessDay [Nigeria]

The Healthcare Meningitis Trust Fund, a corporate entity floated jointly by Pfizer Incorporated, and Kano State government, has presented a monetary compensation of N19.6 million to one of the victims of the Trovan drug in Kano. The beneficiary, Mohammed Mustapha, is the third batch of victims of the controversial drug test that have been compensated in the out-of-court settlement reached by parties involved in the dispute.

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4 June 2012

Children's Rights and the Pharmaceutical Industry

Author: Child Rights Information Network (Editorial)

Unquestionably, medicine plays a huge role in securing children's rights...But what happens when the very same companies that provide life-saving drugs violate some children's rights to improve health care for others, or simply to increase the bottom line? As the pharmaceutical industry becomes increasingly globalised, it is ever more important to ask this question...[refers to Pfizer, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson]

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15 March 2012

Children's rights: why businesses should care more for children

Author: Annabel Short, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in Guardian [UK]

[E]xamples demonstrate that almost every company has an impact on children...[M]any companies keep their initiatives to support children separate from their core business activities…[A] mining firm might highlight its investment in schools around its mines in its corporate responsibility report, but fail to address the local community's concerns about children made ill by contaminated water supplies...This week UNICEF, Save the Children and the UN Global Compact launched their "children's rights and business principles"…[T]he UN committee on the rights of the child will be developing a "general comment on the rights of the child and the business sector"…While a CSR or philanthropic approach tends to be top-down, with the company deciding which issues it wishes to address, human rights start from the perspective of the individuals who are affected by a company's operations…Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launched an information hub on the subject…[refers to Pfizer, Stanford Equity bank]

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Author: Francisco Javier Zamora Cabot, Universidad Jaume I de Castellón

Vinculándose con diversas iniciativas de las Naciones Unidas respecto de las empresas multinacionales y los DD.HH…[el Informe…Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights]…enfatiza la obligación de…proveer el acceso a…reparación…haciéndose patente cómo los avances en los derechos internos deben…mecanismos de investigación, sanción y reparación…[L]os EE.UU.…parecen encontrarse ante un punto de inflexión a este respecto…El ATCA…se aplicaba sin suscitar excesivos rechazos, hasta que empezaron a caer bajo su dominio las empresas multinacionales…[E]l caso Kiobel…podría ser...un verdadero paso atrás que debería ser corregido…[P]aso ya a presentar algunos de los casos de violaciones de los Derechos Humanos imputados a las empresas del sector y País citados…[Se refiere a Anvil Mining, Barrick Gold, Chiquita, Drummond, Hudbay Minerals, Infinito Gold, Jeppensen (part of Boeing), Pacific Rim Mining, Pfizer, Porgera (joint venture Barrick Gold, Emperor Gold Mines, Mineral Resources Enga), Rio Tinto, Shell, Talisman, Texaco (part of Chevron)]

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