by Leslie A. Brueckner has been a Staff Attorney at Public Justice for over 15 years. Among other victories, Ms. Brueckner served as lead counsel in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine Corp., 537 U.S. 51 (2002), a federal preemption case unanimously upholding an injury victim's right to sue a manufacturer for failing to install propeller guards on its recreational motor boat engines.
Consumer advocates across America heaved a collective sigh of relief when, on March 4, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Wyeth Pharmaceutical's bid to wipe state law failure-to-warn claims against drug manufacturers off the litigation map. In Wyeth v. Levine, 2009 WL 529172 (U.S.Vt.), one of the most high-profile cases decided this term, the Court held 6-to-3 that federal law does not preempt lawsuits against prescription drug manufacturers for failing to warn of their drug's dangers. The decision is being hailed as a resounding victory both for victims' rights and for public health and safety.
A Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided
Wyeth was filed on behalf of a professional guitarist, Diana Levine (right), who lost an arm after an injection of the nausea drug Phenergan, which is manufactured by Wyeth. (She was given the drug to combat nausea associated with migraine headaches.) The injectable form of Phenergan can be administered intravenously through either the "IV-push" method, whereby the drug is injected directly into a patient's vein, or the "IV-drip" method, whereby the drug is introduced into a hanging intravenous bag and slowly descends through a catheter inserted in a patient's vein. The drug is corrosive and causes irreversible gangrene if it enters a patient's artery.