Supreme Court rejects limits on drug lawsuits, upholds award in Phenergan case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court rejected calls Wednesday for limiting consumer lawsuits against drugmakers, upholding a $6.7 million jury award to a musician who lost her arm to gangrene after an injection.

The decision was the second this term to reject business groups' arguments that federal regulation effectively pre-empts consumer complaints under state law.

Diana Levine, 63, of Vermont once played the guitar and the piano professionally. Her right arm was amputated after she was injected with Phenergan, an antinausea medicine made by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, using a method that brings rapid relief, but with grievous risks if it is improperly administered.

Levine's lawsuit said she wasn't sufficiently warned of the risks of using Phenergan. But Bert Rein, a Washington lawyer who represents Wyeth, argued that the company's label complied with federal law.

In a 6-3 decision, the court turned away Wyeth's claim that federal approval of Phenergan and its warning label should have shielded the company from lawsuits such as Levine's.

"Next to getting my hand back, it's the best they could do and the least they could have done," Levine said. She now plays with one hand and sings.

The three who dissented were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.

Wyeth is in the process of being bought by rival Pfizer Inc. in a $68 billion deal that is expected to close later this year.

Pfizer apologizes: Pointed questions from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the Senate Finance Committee's top Republican, about why a Pfizer Inc. employee was photographing a Harvard University medical student protest drew a statement of regret Wednesday from the drug company, but Pfizer had no explanation for why the photos were taken.

Supreme Court rejects limits on drug lawsuits, upholds award in Phenergan case 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 10:47pm]

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