U.S. Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Pharmaceutical Industry

In a great decision for victims of dangerous drugs throughout the United States, on March 4, 2009 the Supreme Court upheld a Vermont state court decision awarding 6.7 million to a woman who suffered permanent injuries from an anti-nausea drug. The case involved a Vermont resident who developed gangrene after a botched injection of the drug, which tragically resulted in the amputation of her hand and lower arm. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the plaintiff was a musician, and lost her livelihood due to her injuries.

The physician’s assistant who performed the injection used a highly risky intravenous push technique, which allowed the drug to enter an artery, rather than the intravenous drip technique, the much safer method in which the drug is injected into liquid already flowing into a vein. Allowing the drug to enter the artery causes immediate and irreversible gangrene. Wyeth’s lawyers requested that the Supreme Court set aside the verdict, attempting to rely on the fact that they had complied with FDA labeling requirements. (In a case last year against medical device manufacturers of heart defibrillators, stents, and artificial hips, the Court had ruled that federal law and FDA scrutiny prevented product liability lawsuits in state courts). However, in a decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the elder statesman and most liberal member of the Supreme Court, the justices determined that Wyeth’s warnings were insufficient and should have made abundantly clear the dangers of serious injury if the drug was injected improperly.

The decision to allow state damage suits will undoubtedly cause manufacturers to use greater care in the production and labeling of their products. We would also expect a revisiting of last year’s decision protecting device makers, which seems somewhat inconsistent with the Court’s welcome decision protecting the public this week.

Contact the Westchester product liability lawyers at The Law Office of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 888-761-7633 if you or a loved one has been the victim of a dangerous or defective product for a free consultation to discuss your case in detail.