Last year, actor Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins almost died when they received 1,000 times the correct dose of a blood thinner due to a labeling error. Yesterday, Quaid was on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress about the danger that the misuse of preemption poses to public safety. Preemption is the legal doctrine stating that federal law overrules, or preempts, state law when there is a conflict between the two. It is of particular importance in the areas of consumer health and safety.
Movement conservatives have latched on to the preemption doctrine, and have spent years fighting to shield big business from legitimate lawsuits, claiming that our nation is plagued by frivolous claims. President Bush even mentioned the issue in one of his State of the Union addresses – his famed, “too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country” gaffe.
The truth is that for millions of Americans who have been hurt by careless physicians or profit-driven drug manufacturers, the courts are their only avenue to seek redress. Conservatives, however, are alarmingly close to achieving their goal and locking the doors of justice to some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
On February 20th, the Supreme Court released its controversial decision in Riegel v. Medtronic, which stated that if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a medical device that later proves to be harmful, injured people cannot sue the manufacturer under applicable state laws, because those laws are “preempted” by the agency’s prior approval of that device. And in April, the New York Times wrote an article outlining just how close conservatives are to embedding this doctrine into our laws.
The Supreme Court will also hear a case in its next term regarding similar circumstances surrounding a drug manufacturer. In Wyeth v. Levine, the drug manufacturer Wyeth is claiming that it cannot be sued for mislabeling its drug Phenergan – despite the fact that the drug’s mislabeling directly resulted in the amputation of Ms. Levine’s arm – because the drug had been approved for use by the FDA.
Congress is currently considering legislation to fix the Medtronic decision, called the Medical Device Safety Act of 2008. Alliance for Justice has sent letters of support to both the House and Senate urging members to pass this legislation. As Dennis Quaid said before Congress yesterday, “The courts are often the only path for families that are harmed by the drug companies' negligence.”