A lawsuit filed by whistleblower Brook Jackson alleging Pfizer and two of its contractors manipulated data and committed other acts of fraud during Pfizer’s COVID-19 clinical trials is paused following a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case.
In an interview with The Defender, Jackson’s lawyer said Pfizer argued the lawsuit, which was filed under the False Claims Act, should be dismissed because the U.S. government knew of the wrongdoings in the clinical trials but continued to do business with the vaccine maker.
Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers can be rewarded for confidentially disclosing fraud that results in a financial loss to the federal government.
However, a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded the scope of a legal principle known as “materiality” resulted in a series of federal court decisions in which fraud cases brought under the False Claims Act were dismissed.
As interpreted by the Supreme Court, if the government continued paying a contractor despite the contractor’s fraudulent activity, the fraud was not considered “material” to the contract.
“Pfizer claims they can get away with fraud as long as the government would write them a check despite knowing about the fraud,” attorney Robert Barnes said.
In an attempt to strengthen the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provisions and install new safeguards against industry-level blacklisting of whistleblowers seeking employment, Congress in July 2021 introduced the False Claims Amendments Act of 2021.
Pfizer previously was heavily fined in connection with the False Claims Act. As part of a 2009 settlement, the company paid $2.3 billion in fines — the largest healthcare fraud settlement in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice — stemming from allegations of illegal marketing of off-label products not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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