The Controversial Death Of A Sanofi Sales Rep

The Controversial Death Of A Sanofi Sales Rep

January 19th, 2012 // 1:40 pm @

Early on a Sunday morning in July 2010, a Sanofi sales rep named Kang was driving a medical school professor to a planned golf outing in South Korea. But then, tragedy struck. An accident ensued and Kang was killed; the professor was harmed, but survived. The Kang estate later maintained this was a work-related death and sought to receive compensation from the Korea Labor Welfare Corporation.

This is where things got a little sticky, though, and have placed the drugmaker on the defensive. Media reports indicated Sanofi argued the death was not related to official work. Why? Although Sanofi never “presented a report insisting that the death of the employee is not a work-related accident,” the drugmaker never “directed the employee to a golf entertainment, nor approved such an activity,” according to a statement sent to us. In other words, Kang was free to golf with the professor, but this was not sanctioned as part of his responsibilities.

The explanation suggested that Kang was not entitled to compensation, since he was not officially on the job when the accident occurred. And so the Korea Labor Welfare Corporation rejected a claim by the Kang family, which argued that Kang was taking the professor to play golf because such an activity was, in fact, part of his job. The family subsequently filed suit and, last week, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled the KLWC will have to cover funeral costs and make a condolence payment.

“Kang clearly seems to have died while operating official sales business, and his death is an industrial accident. Even though there is little evidence corroborating the company ordered a golfing treat, literally, it winked at it, covering (golf) treating costs (and) disguised them as lunch or dinner for Kang,” the court ruled, according to one South Korean media report.

Here is the issue. The pharmaceutical industry, you may recall, has tried to be more cautious about interactions with physicians after the Korea Fair Trade Commission began a crackdown a few years ago. Last fall, for instance, Sanofi was one of six drugmakers fined for organizing free seminars and conferences for doctors, clinics and hospitals; offering golf outings; carpets; wine; dinners; speaking and consulting fees; spa treatments; movie showings and old-fashioned cash for purportedly conducting post-marketing surveillance (read here).

For this reason, the South Korean media reports also suggested that Sanofi somehow submitted falsified information on the accident report in order to avoid not only liability, but also repercussions from regulators. Not surprisingly, Sanofi has taken exception to the reports and a spokesman tells us that the drugmaker did not fabricate any information pertaining to the accident.

The following statement was sent from Sanofi offices in South Korea by way of the spokesman: “It is true that during the process of dispute between the bereaved family and the KLWC, the company has written and provided the document based on the facts that the company has captured at that time, but did not ever distort the details of the accident.

“The accident happened in July 2010, when our customer was at the employee’s car. Taking it into consideration, the company has made utmost efforts to support the bereaved family to receive compensation from the KLWC by providing related information and assistance. Moreover, the company has never claimed that the death of its employee is not work-related.”

Nonetheless, the episode has clearly made Sanofi officials uncomfortable. Although the accident occurred before the latest regulatory enforcement effort by the KFTC, the unfortunate death of the sales rep is a reminder that drugmakers are under increased scrutiny and the golf outing was a likely example of why regulators have remained so interested in pharmaceutical marketing.

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