On March 4, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in a closely watched federal preemption case, ruling that woman may file a personal injury suit in state court over a federally-approved drug.
The drug company, which is based out of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, sought to reverse a $6.7 million jury award in a suit filed by a Vermont woman whose forearm required amputation due to a reaction to an injection of Phenergan, an anti-nausea drug.
Diana Levine lost an arm to gangrene after being injected with Phenergan.
The drug is typically administered through intramuscular injection or intravenously because it can cause gangrene if it contacts arterial blood. According to Levine, the method of administering the drug was unsafe under Vermont state law.
Levine was awarded more than $6 million by a jury that found that Wyeth had failed to adequately warn her of the drug’s risks. But Wyeth argued that the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act preempted her claims.Writing for the court's 6-3 majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's oversight of drug labeling doesn't prevent state-level actions against drug companies.
Stevens said that Wyeth failed to persuade the court that failure-to-warn claims, such as Levine’s, obstruct the federal regulation of drug labeling.