Earlier this year we reported on the pending United States Supreme Court decision in a case known as Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett. The legal matter may have an impact on seniors, because it deals with liability following serious harm caused by medications. Considering that important role that medications play in the lives of many seniors with different ailments, any ruling which impacts one’s ability to recover following adverse reactions to a dangerous drug may affect the legal rights of the elderly community, including manby Illinois nursing home residents.
The Generic Drug Case
This week the Supreme Court finally handed down its ruling in the Mutual Pharmaceutical case (full opinion here). Technically the case hinged on whether federal law prohibited certain state common law rulings in regard to strict liability for harm caused by design defects in generic drugs. That is a bit of a mouthful. Put another way, the decision affects whether a patient who has an adverse reaction to the drug can sue the manufacturer if the drug is a generic version, instead of the name brand version.
In most situations. dangerous drug are guided by “strict liability” rules. That means that a plaintiff seeking recovery does not have to show some specific acts of negligence on the part of the company. Instead, the company is simply required to pay for the damages of the adverse reaction to the drug no matter what. Dealing with the adverse reaction is a cost of doing business–something these companies are willing to do considering they make billions and billions of dollars on the sale of the product.
But the rules are somewhat different for generic drugs. Generic drug makers are forced by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to essentially copy the chemical design and labeling of the name brand product. Because they are copying another, federal rules hold that they are not strictly liable for adverse reactions to the drug.
This case determined whether that state was allowed to make different rules regarding liability on state common law grounds.
The Court Opinion
Justice Alito wrote for the court, which was closely dive 5-4 on the matter. He held that state common law rules could not allow an injured party to recover from the generic drug company if they were prohibited from doing so under federal law. Conversely, two dissenting opinions were issue which argued otherwise. The Justices writing those opinions found that Congress explicitly wanted state rules to play a complementary role in guiding legal rules about manufacturer liability. By cutting of the state’s ability to find a generic drug manufacturer liable, that Congressional intention was thwarted.
While this ruling may explicitly limit the recovery rights of those harmed by generic drugs for design defects, it is important not to allow this matter to dissuade you from seeking out legal help if you suspect harm caused by a dangerous drug. Without advice from an injury attorney who works with defective product cases it is impossible to say if the or similar rule will play a role in your case.
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