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This week, the Supreme Court sustained a $6.7 million jury verdict award to a woman who lost her arm because of improper use of the anti-nausea medication, Phenegran. In a 6-3 ruling the high court rejected arguments from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals that it was protected from personal injury claims because drug labeling for its medicine had been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

In Wyeth v. Levine, the Court noted that directly injecting the drug into a patient’s vein significantly increased the risk of “catastrophic consequences.”  The Plaintiff argued that even though Phenegran’s labeling warned of the danger of gangrene and amputation following injection, it failed to instruct physicians to use an IV-drip method. In August 2004, a trial court found in favor of the Plaintiff.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that the trial court “determined that there was no direct conflict between FDA regulations and Levine’s state-law claims because those regulations permit strengthened warnings without FDA approval on an interim basis and the record contained evidence of the at least 20 reports of amputations similar to Levine’s since the 1960s.” Stevens concluded that, “In short, Wyeth has not persuaded us that failure-to-warn claims like Levine’s obstruct the federal regulation of drug labeling. Congress has repeatedly declined to pre-empt state law, and the FDA’s recently adopted position that state tort suits interfere with its statutory mandate is entitled to no weight. Although we recognize that some state-law claims might well frustrate the achievement of congressional objectives, this is not such a case.” 


 A recent survey of Texas judges shows that runaway juries and frivolous lawsuits are in large part fictional events and that tort reform legislation was not necessary.  To evaluate the nation’s need for tort reform, Baylor Law School researchers surveyed a broad sample of trial judges. 

All 389 judges in Texas at the time of the survey received detailed questionnaires, and 78% of them participated.  Their responses demonstrate that tort reform advocates, at least in Texas, have made many unfounded claims regarding the need to cap jury awards.  83% percent of responding judges reported that in the last 2 years, they had not seen a single “runaway” jury verdict.  In fact, 58% believed that juries awarded damage amounts that were inappropriately low many times. 

The report also addresses the impact of many popular tort reform anecdotes that are misleading or fabricated.  It was published in the Spring 2007 issue of the Baylor Law Review.


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