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Organic Consumers Association

Supreme Court Rules Drug Companies Exempt from Lawsuits in 5-4 Vote: Monsanto Strategy?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Health Issues page.

In a 5 to 4 vote, the US Supreme Court has absolved pharmaceutical companies, and over 80 percent of all drugs prescribed in the US, of legal liability for a long list of ill deeds including fraud, mislabeling, side effects and accidental death.

This decision happened as a response to a lower court's ruling concerning a victim who took a pharmaceutical drug and had a severely adverse reaction that caused the patient to be completely disfigured when the drug caused a flesh-eating side effect. The side effect was known by the drug maker and yet, was not labeled. The lower court ruled that the drug maker would have to label all future drugs with this side effect but the Supreme Court left the corporations who make these drugs completely exempt from future lawsuits, and said the victim 'had no legal grounds to sue.'

Karen Bartlett tried to sue Mutual Pharmaceutical Company after taking an anti-inflammatory drug called Sulindac due to a sore shoulder. It was this drug that caused 'toxic epidermal necrolysis' just three weeks after taking the pharmaceutical. Her flesh began to peel off so badly it resembled a third degree burn.

How is it that pharmaceutical companies can continue to put people's health in jeopardy in such atrocious ways without being culpable?

When Bartlett sued in a New Hampshire state court, including the fact that there was no warning about the possible flesh-eating side effect, she won the case and was awarded $21 million in damages. The FDA then went on to force both Mutual Pharma and Merck & Co. to include warnings on drug labels going forward, but nine years later, the Supreme Court has overturned that ruling. The higher court stated as reason for their verdict, 'all generic drugs and their manufacturers [over 80% of all drugs prescribed in the US] are exempt from liability for side effects.' The court has essentially given the FDA ultimate authority over pharmaceutical use in the US.

One critic, Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, as reported by Reuters, stated, "Today's court decision provides a disincentive for generic makers of drugs to monitor safety of their products and to make sure that they have a surveillance system in place to detect adverse events that pose a threat to patients."     


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