Friday, March 06, 2009

Of Lost Limbs and Litigation

A Vermont woman who lost her arm to amputation following a botched IV injection of Phenergan has now been vindicated by the Supreme Court, the justices ruling against Wyeth Pharmaceutical by a 6-3 margin.

Essentially, the Bush Administration had made it relatively easy for large corporations to protect themselves against lawsuits at the state level, even if state regulations are tougher than similar federal regulations. In this particular case, Wyeth claimed that it was protected by the FDA's labeling of the drug, yet Vermont regulations went further than the feds, and the Supreme Court has sided with states' rights in this regard.

I am not a legal scholar by any stretch, and cannot even begin to understand the nuances of this decision and its ramifications. However, from the point of view of compassion for an individual who suffered an enormous loss, this decision states quite clearly that those who suffer from negligence can indeed receive compensation for their suffering despite federal regulations which seek to protect corporations from such litigation at the state level.

The injured woman, a musician by vocation, lost not only her arm but her means of supporting herself financially. While it has been admitted that the physician assistant who administered the medication IV push was basically following the FDA-approved label for the use of the medication, the label still lacked sufficient warning that such a technique was extremely risky, at best. What is at issue in this case is that federal regulations protected Wyeth Pharmaceutical from liability based on litigation at the state level. With this decision, those federal regulations are brought into question, and thousands of injured individuals---and perhaps whole communities---may now be in an entirely different legal position than previously thought.

Legalities aside, my personal feeling is one of celebration for this woman who lost her arm, her vocation, and a calling that brought her such joy and personal fulfillment. I rejoice for her victory and for the financial freedom that this compensation will afford her. In terms of the legal issues surrounding the case, I will leave that to the scholars to debate, and that debate will likely rage for years to come.
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