The New York Times has called today’s US Supreme Court ruling in the Wyeth vs. Levine suit the “most important business case in years.” I have been following this case for many months, astonished that a medical malpractice suit had gotten all the way to the Supreme Court. But even more shocking is the fact that the court actually ruled that lay juries may evaluate the accuracy of FDA-approved drug labels written for healthcare professionals.
In other words, after a team of FDA regulators decide on the very best language to describe potential risks of a drug – Joe Six Pack can overrule their expertise and hold the drug company liable for any deficit (as he interprets it) in label language, awarding millions to anyone who experiences harm, no matter how well disclosed that risk is.
I reached out to Wyeth’s attorney, Bert Rein, for comment. Here are the highlights from the interview (a podcast is available here)…
Dr. Val: The New York Times is calling Wyeth vs. Levine the most important business case in years. Can you summarize what just happened?
Rein: The court determined that Wyeth’s liability for Ms. Levine’s injury was not preempted by the FDA-approved drug label warnings. They were not convinced that the FDA had declined to strengthen the warning language on the label prior to Ms. Levine’s injury, though Wyeth had in fact requested a label change. In addition, the court held that the FDA’s regulatory regime was insufficient to preempt Ms. Levine from suing Wyeth, because the FDA doesn’t have a regulational requirement for all label updates to undergo federal approval. The court therefore ruled that the suit was well founded and that the state of Vermont should decide whether or not Wyeth’s conduct was appropriate.