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Transcript
Drug approval is not a shield from
Lawsuits, Justice Rule
Background
•
Makers of medical devices like implantable Defibrillators or breast implants are immune from liability for personal
injuries as long as the Food And Drug Administration approved the device before it was marketed and it meets the
agency’s specifications.
( Justices Shield Medical Devices From Lawsuits By Linda Greenhouse Published: February 21, 2008 )
•
The key issue before the justices was whether the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of drug labels should
pre-empt lawsuits in state courts contending, as Ms. Levine’s did, that the labels did not contain adequate
warnings.
•
On March 5th 2009 The Supreme court ruled that a drug company is not protected from injury claims in state court
merely because the Federal government had approved the product and its labeling. The Supreme Court state
juries may award damages for harm from unsafe drugs even though their manufacturers had satisfied federal
regulators.
(No Legal Shield in Drug Labeling, Justices Rule By Adam Liptak Published: March 4, 2009 )
What happened to Diana Levine?
Ms. Levine’s suffering began in the spring of 2000 when, suffering from a migraine, she
visited a local clinic for a treatment she had received many times: Demerol for pain and
Phenergan for nausea.
If Phenergan is exposed to arterial blood, it causes swift and irreversible gangrene.
Therefore, it is typically administered by intramuscular injection. Ms. Levine’s lawyers aid
an intravenous drip is also quite safe.
But a physician’s assistant used a third method, injecting the drug into what she thought
was a vein, using a technique known as “IV push.” The assistant apparently missed avein
and hit an artery instead, causing Ms. Levine’s right hand and forearm to turn purple and
black in the following weeks, leading to amputation of much of her arm.
The F.D.A.-approved label warned that “inadvertent intra-arterial injection” can cause
gangrene requiring amputation, but it did not rule out administering the drug by the “IV
push” method. The Vermont trial judge instructed the jury that compliance with F.D.A.
requirements did not establish that the warnings on the labels were adequate.
Who made the ruling? What was the vote? What was the award?
The supreme court made the ruling that a drug company is not protected from injury
claims in state court merely because the federal government had approved the product
and its labeling.
The court, by a 6-to-3 vote, upheld a jury verdict of $6.7 million in favor of a musician
from Vermont whose arm had to be amputated after she was injected with an
antinausea drug.
(The drug’s manufacturer, Wyeth had argued that its compliance with the Food and Drug
Administration’s labeling requirements should immunize it from lawsuits )
What were Wyeth’s arguments?
Wyeth’s lawyers, had argued that the company provided “ample, lavish warnings,” and
that Wyeth should not have been held liable, because the Food and Drug Administration
had approved the label on the drug in question, Phenergan.
Why did the Court rule against Wyeth?
Why should Wyeth have known of the danger?
The F.D.A.-approved label warned that “inadvertent intra-arterial injection” can cause
gangrene requiring amputation, but it did not rule out administering the drug by the “IV
push” method.
The Vermont trial judge instructed the jury that compliance with F.D.A.
requirements did not establish that the warnings on the labels were adequate.
Justice Stevens noted that the trial record contained evidence of at least 20 reports of
amputations similar to Ms. Levine’s since the 1960’s. Phenergan was first approved in
1955.The justices who sided with Ms. Levine on Wednesday said that “Wyeth could have
unilaterally added a stronger warning about IV-push administration” without running afoul
of federal regulations. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
and Stephen G. Breyer joined Justice Stevens, while Justice Clarence Thomas filed an
opinion concurring in the overall judgment.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a dissent declaring, “This case illustrates that tragic facts
make bad law.” Joining him with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin
Scalia.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/washington/05scotus.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=p... 3/4/2009
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