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Supreme Court orders Wyeth to pay $6.7m in damages to guitarist who lost hand

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b964 (Published 09 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b964
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

    The US Supreme Court has ruled that the drug company Wyeth was liable for $6.7m (£4.7m; €5.3m) in damages in a lawsuit brought by Diana Levine, a guitarist from Vermont. Ms Levine’s right forearm was amputated because of gangrene caused by an injection of Wyeth’s drug promethazine hydrochloride (Phenergan). She said that the drug’s label did not sufficiently warn of its risks.

    Wyeth had argued that because the drug’s labelling had been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration it was protected from lawsuits brought in state courts, as Ms Levine’s was. Federal law is usually considered to pre-empt state law.

    Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the court’s opinion, said that drug makers, not the FDA, are primarily responsible for their drug labelling.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling, on 4 March in a 6-3 decision, means …

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