Supreme Court issues opinion in Wyeth v. Levine

A few months ago we posted a blog to our website titled “How does the United States Supreme Court affect personal injury claims in Vermont?” This blog addressed the case of Wyeth v. Levine. In this case, the musician Diana Levine had lost part of her arm due to an infection caused by a painkiller manufactured by Wyeth. During the case, Wyeth asserted that it was not responsible for the personal injuries suffered by Levine because the FDA had approved the painkiller. Wyeth argued that the federal government, through the FDA, regulates drugs, and that people injured as a result of taking such drugs should not be able to sue the drug makers in court as long as they had followed the FDA guidelines.

The Vermont Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of Diana Levine, holding that Levine was not in fact barred from bringing her suit. The case was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 2008. The Court issued its opinion, today and agreed with the Vermont Supreme Court and personal injury plaintiff Diana Levine!!

This is a major defeat for the pharmaceutical industry and a major victory for personal injury plaintiffs all over the country. In essence, the Supreme Court held that state law tort suits are not pre-empted by the federal law governing drug labeling. In other words, federal regulations do not trump state actions.

Both attorneys on the case issued opinions to the Wall Street Journal which can be found on their blog. Wyeth’s lawyer said: “We believed that Federal law prohibited the company from revising its product label as the Vermont court required, and we regret that the Supreme Court disagreed. The medical and scientific experts at FDA are in the best position to weigh the risks and benefits of a medicine and to assess how those risks and benefits should be described in the product’s label.”

Levine’s lawyer said: “The Supreme Court’s opinion reaffirms the important role state law plays in promoting consumer safety and providing compensation for injuries. More importantly, the decision permits Ms. Levine to put this chapter behind her and to move on with her life.”

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