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March 4, 2009
Wyeth v. Levine: Pre-emption Goes Away
The idea of preemption in drug liability cases has been coming up a lot in recent years. If the FDA approves a drug, does that Federal-level approval stop liability suits at the state level, or not?
The Supreme Court has ruled today in the Wyeth v. Levine case, which directly addresses this issue. And pre-emption now appears to be a dead issue, at least in my first reading:
". . .State tort suits uncover unknown drug hazards and pro-vide incentives for drug manufacturers to disclose safety risks promptly. They also serve a distinct compensatory function that may motivate injured persons to come for-ward with information. . .
. . .Wyeth has not persuaded us that failure-to-warn claims like Levine’s obstruct the federal regulation of drug labeling. Congress has repeatedly declined to pre-empt state law, and the FDA’s recently adopted position that state tort suits interfere with its statutory mandate is entitled to no weight. Although we recognize that some state-law claims might well frustrate the achievement of congressional objectives, this is not such a case.
We conclude that it is not impossible for Wyeth to comply with its state and federal law obligations and that Levine’s common-law claims do not stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of Congress’ purposes in the FDCA. Accordingly, the judgment of the Vermont Supreme Court is affirmed."
And that, I would say, is that.
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