In a blow to pharmaceutical companies, the Supreme Court decided Wednesday that even if a drug gets the stamp of approval from the Food and Drug Administration, it does not make it immune to lawsuits from the people who use them.
"For consumers this is a big win. It gives them a right to sue through no fault of their own," says Georgetown law professor David Vladeck.
In a vote of six to three, Supreme Court justices upheld Vermont's Supreme Court ruling. The drug maker Wyeth had argued that if a label is FDA approved, that pre-empts any liability claims on the state level. The Vermont case involved Diana Levine, a popular guitarist who received the drug Phenergan through an I.V. for a migraine headache nine years ago. When the medicine came in contact with an artery, it damaged part of her arm and doctors had to amputate. An earlier Vermont decision awarded her nearly seven million dollars for that.
Some are calling the Supreme Court decision a warning to drug companies that they cannot count on a normally conservative court to shield them from patient lawsuits.