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The Pharmaceutical Companies Have A lot At Risk In Upcoming U S Supreme Court Case

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Arguments begin this week in the United States Supreme Court is the case of Wyeth v. Levine. The case originated out of Vermont, where Diana Levine, of Plainfield, Vermont, a pianist and professional guitarist, received a 6.7 million verdict against Wyeth Ayerst Laboratories. The jury found doctors improperly administered her drugs intravenously made by that company when she was suffering from nausea. As a result, gangrene set in and the lower half of her right arm had to be amputated. Later the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the verdict.

The issue before the United States Supreme Court is whether FDA approval of the drug preempted Vermont state statutes and in all actuality denies Ms. Levine of any type of case. "What’s at issue in this is whether or not people like Diana Levine who were injured by a drug can sue in state court for the injuries the drug caused, even when the FDA has said the use of the drug is OK. So the real question is whether federal law can trump state law," explained legal expert Cheryl Hanna, of the Vermont Law School.

A recent Wall Street journal article pointed out what the Pharmaceutical companies have a lot at stake with a ruling.

Johnson & Johnson just paid $68 million to settle cases involving its Ortho Evra contraceptive patch. Settlements over the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa have cost Eli Lilly & Co. more than $1 billion. Merck & Co.’s Vioxx litigation has cost it $4 billion so far, and the price tag for Wyeth’s fen-phen-related diet pills has reached $20 billion.

The Chamber of Commerce, which has underwritten a multi million-dollar lobbying campaign supporting preemption, has said the outcome of Wyeth v. Levine could affect many questions — for example, whether states could set their own standards on the environment and vehicles’ fuel efficiency and called this the the business case of the century. The Bush administration has long promoted the idea that federal law preempts state lawsuits has weighed in on Wyeth’s side before the Supreme Court.

Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association weighed in and argued that the government is incapable of protecting all of it’s citizens with FDA oversight and that the civil justice system was the only remedied for many injured parties.

A decision either way is going to either give big businesses freedom from civil scrutiny or allow individuals to pursue the rights that they presently posses in the individuals states where they live.