Court weights amputee’s case, limits on drug suits
By Mark Sherman
WASHINGTON — A Vermont musician who lost her arm because of a botched drug injection is squaring off against a drug maker and the Bush administration in one of the most closely watched business cases of the Supreme Court’s term.
At issue is whether the federal government can limit lawsuits by consumers like Diana Levine who have been harmed by prescription medications.
The justices are hearing arguments in Levine’s case Monday, shortly after the court announces whether it will accept other cases for argument sometime next year.
The issue of limiting lawsuits arises in the heart-rending story of Levine, a guitarist and pianist who lost her right arm after an injection of the anti-nausea drug Phenergan, made by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.
A Vermont jury awarded Levine $6.7 million, agreeing that Wyeth should have been clearer in its warning label about the risks of improperly administering the drug.
Wyeth and the administration, however, are asking the court to rule that drug makers may not make changes to labels without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration and that people cannot sue under state law for harm caused by an FDA-approved drug.
In recent years, the administration and business groups have aggressively pushed limits on lawsuits through the doctrine of pre-emption — asserting the primacy of federal regulation over rules that might differ from state to state.