U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on Case against Drug Company
A case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, which could affect future lawsuits against drug companies.
Musician Diana Levine could not have imagined that here trip to the health clinic would ultimately end in the loss of her arm and music career. Levine went to the health clinic for relief from a migraine.
Levine visited a clinic near her home in Marshfield, Virginia in April 2000, where she was given pain medicine and another drug, manufactured by Wyeth, for nausea. The physician’s assistant who administered the drug, Phenergan, mistakenly injected it into an artery instead of a vein as instructed by the drug’s label. The drug had a warning that injecting the medicine into an artery could cause irreversible gangrene. Levine’s arm eventually had to be amputated.
Levine filed a lawsuit against the clinic and the physician’s assistant for medical malpractice and reached a settlement outside of court. In 2004, she was awarded $6.7 million from Wyeth by a Vermont jury who found that the drug’s label offered insufficient warning about the danger of that injection method compared with two other, safer ways to administer the drug. The jury’s verdict was upheld in 2006 by the Vermont Supreme Court.
Wyeth was expected to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that the state ruling should be overturned. The central issue is whether patients should be able to sue drug manufacturers under state laws if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the drug and the risks had been fully disclosed.
The outcome of Levine’s case against Wyeth could affect thousands of potential lawsuits by consumers against drug manufacturers each year. The majority of states allow lawsuits if companies fail to warn consumers about products’ hazards that are not obvious. The U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide if FDA-approved warning labels on drugs offer protection to drug companies.