Supreme Court Allows Rezulin Lawsuits to Go Forward Superceding State Law
LANSING, MI -- April 18, 2008 -- Due to a tied vote, the US Supreme Court will permit a group of plaintiffs to sue drug manufacturer Warner-Lambert over the diabetes drug Rezulin, allowing the class action lawsuit to proceed in Michigan. The recently decided US Supreme Court case, Warner-Lambert Co. L.L.C. et al. v. Kimberly Kent et al., originates from several product liability lawsuits filed against the Rezulin manufacturer after the drug was linked to nearly 400 deaths and hundreds of cases of liver failure.
In Michigan, a 1995 law grants immunity to drug manufacturers whose drug and labeling were FDA-approved. However, a loophole exists within the law that allows plaintiffs to sue if they can prove that drug manufacturers defrauded the FDA. In the Warner-Lambert Supreme Court case, the original plaintiffs in the Michigan case against Warner-Lambert successfully challenged the status of the of their lawsuits, alleging that the diabetes drug manufacturer concealed and withheld information from the FDA that would have prevented the drug from being approved for or removed earlier from the market. According to the plaintiffs, Warner-Lambert sought to defraud the FDA by misrepresenting information in order to receive approval for the drug and then to prevent it from being removed from the market.
The high court's 4-4 vote, comes on the heels of the US Supreme Court's ruling in Riegel v. Medtronic Inc., that limits medical device lawsuits at the state level already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "The Supreme Court's non-decision, entered without comment, halts what some thought was gathering momentum in favor of so-called 'preemption' a legal concept that bars traditional tort-law suits over drugs and devices that have been approved by the FDA." (Forbes, March 3, 2008)
Background On the Rezulin Class Action Against Warner-Lambert
Warner-Lambert first introduced Rezulin in 1997. Soon after, more than 100 diabetes patients who took the drug either died from acute liver failure or liver transplants. By 2000, the FDA requested that Rezulin be withdrawn from the market, stating that Rezulin posed an unacceptable risk.
Also in 2000, twenty-seven Michigan residents brought four individual suits against Warner-Lambert in the Michigan State Court, seeking damages for injuries caused by taking Rezulin. The suits were later consolidated and moved to a New York District Court.
In 2005, the New York District Court sided with Warner-Lambert and dismissed the claims based on the fact that, in the court's opinion, plaintiffs could not prove that Rezulin was "defective." The court also based the dismissal on the precedent set by the 2001 Supreme Court ruling in Bachmann Co. v. Plaintiffs' Legal Comm in 2001. Warner-Lambert lawyers argued that under the Bachmann ruling, claims alleging "fraud" in state courts were preempted by federal laws governing drug manufacturers.
J. Douglas Peters, an attorney with Detroit's Charfoos & Christensen law firm, representing 47 Michiganders in the Rezulin case, said that the New York District Court's ruling was a big set back for Michigan residents. "When thousands of people injured by Rezulin in the other 49 states all are being paid for injuries, only Michiganders are being denied a right of recovery," Peters said.
Contrary to the New York District Court's 2005 ruling, in 2007, a US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision and concluded that the plaintiffs' case could go to trial. It was then that the case headed for the US Supreme Court.
Interestingly, the Michigan Legislature is now considering repeal of the tort reform statute that has impacted this case. Rep. Edward Gaffnet (R-Grosse Pointe Farms) said he would soon introduce legislation to repeal the Michigan law. Rep. Gaffnet stated, , "It just seems unfair to me that someone in Michigan would be wronged by a drug company and not have some remedy."
Brayton Purcell and Your Case
At Brayton Purcell, we are concerned about the hazards of unsafe prescription drugs such as Rezulin. If you have taken a medical drug that may be unsafe, you may be at risk for serious health problems and should consult your doctor immediately. For more information, please read our sections entitled Injuries from Medical Drugs.
If you have been injured by an unsafe medical drug, please feel free to contact our attorneys for a free evaluation of your potential case. We have offices in Portland, Oregon in Northern California, in Southern California and in Salt Lake City, Utah and represent clients from all fifty states, often working with lawyers from other states as co-counsel.