Supreme Court to Hear Personal Injury Case

Supreme Court to Hear Personal Injury Case

On Nov. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court began its hearing of a Vermont woman's personal injury case against pharmaceutical giant Wyeth, in a closely watched issue that touches on injured healthcare consumers, the FDA, drug companies, and state versus federal laws.

Diana Levine, a professional guitarist, was awarded $6.7 million by a Vermont jury after an IV push of the anti-nausea drug Phenergan caused gangrene in her arm, resulting in its amputation. Her personal injury lawsuit had alleged that Wyeth had an insufficient warning on Phenergan's labeling about the risk of this negative reaction, and the jury agreed, awarding her both compensatory and punitive damages. 

Federal Preemption of State Laws

The argument that the Supreme Court will hear the case centers on whether Vermont law is "preempted" (superseded) by federal law. Phenergan and its warning label had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Wyeth argued that this federal approval takes precedence over the state law that allowed Levine to sue Wyeth in a personal injury action. 

Wyeth's court case is being supported by briefs from lobbyists for the drug industry, related business groups, and the Bush administration. The pharmaceutical industry wants the FDA's centralized regulation to take precedence; however, many critics have pointed out that the FDA often seems to be protecting drug companies rather than consumers. 

Incorrect Administration of the Drug

Levine's case is supported by briefs for 47 states, medical groups, consumer advocates, and others. She had gone to a local clinic in 2000 for treatment for migraine headaches; she says that she was not told about the dangers of the drug she was administered. A clinic technician incorrectly injected the Phenergan into Levine's arm. 

Levine suffered weeks of pain as her hand and forearm turned black with gangrene; they were amputated, and Levine sued the technician and clinic. That case was settled for approx. $700,000. The case against Wyeth was dealt with in a Vermont court, and a Supreme Court decision regarding Wyeth vs. Levine is not expected until early next year. 

(Source: Associated Press) 

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