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US Supreme Court Upholds $6.7 Drug Litigation Verdict Against Wyeth and Rejects Plea that Federal Approval of Phenergan Pre-Empts Personal Injury Lawsuits

The US Supreme Court has upheld a $6.7 million civil awarded to a woman whose arm had to be amputated after receiving a botched injection of Phenergan, an anti-nausea medication. The woman, Diana Levine, was injured in April 2000 when she went to a local clinic for treatment of a migraine.

The clinic administered the drug, also known as promethazine, to her using an IV-push, which allows for a greater volume of medication to enter her body at a faster pace. Although the needle was supposed to go straight into her vein, it accidentally struck her artery and Levine developed gangrene.

Doctors had to amputate her hand and forearm, which put an end to Levin’s career as a guitarist and a pianist. Not only did she lose a main source of financial livelihood but she began to accrue expensive medical bills. Levine sued Wyeth, accusing the pharmaceutical company of insufficient product labeling. She contended that the drug maker did not provide enough warning about the potential dangers of using the drug.

After a civil jury ruled in her favor, Wyeth appealed the verdict. The drug maker has argued that because the Food and Drug Administration approved Phenergan for consumer use, this should pre-empt any dangerous drug lawsuits against it.

However, the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 decision, rejected the drug maker’s claim that Wyeth did not have the right to sue the company and gave Levine the right to collect her jury award. In writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said it was possible for Wyeth to comply with both federal and state laws in this matter.

This ruling is considered a victory not just for Wyeth but for other injury plaintiffs who wish to sue pharmaceutical companies over dangerous drugs that have caused personal injury or wrongful death.

Musician gets high court OK to sue Wyeth, CNNMoney.com, March 4, 2009
No Legal Shield in Drug Labeling, Justices Rule, New York Times, March 4, 2009

Related Web Resources:
Wyeth V. Levine, Supreme Court Opinion (PDF)

Wyeth

Wyeth Comments on U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Levine Preemption Case, Wyeth, March 4, 2009