Feds Block Consumer Drug Lawsuits

The federal government has been going to court to block lawsuits by consumers who claim they have been injured by prescription drugs and medical devices, arguing consumers cannot recover damages for such injuries if the products are FDA-approved. The Justice Department acknowledges this position reflects a policy change and has persuaded some judges to accept its arguments.

Allowing consumers to sue manufacturers would undermine public health and interfere with federal regulation of drugs and devices by encouraging judges and juries to second-guess FDA experts, the government said in siding with the maker of a heart pump sued by the widow of a Pennsylvania man. Moreover, they contend if such lawsuits succeed, some good products may be removed from the market.

The conundrum: The patient's right to sue based on faulty drugs or devices versus a torrent of frivolous and often costly lawsuits that clog up the courts for years.

Some believe the government has taken the FDA in a radical new direction: Protecting drug companies instead of the public. The House recently cut $500,000 from the budget of the FDA's chief counsel as a penalty for its aggressive opposition to consumer lawsuits.

One justifiably upset consumer whose husband committed suicide last year after taking Zoloft for five weeks doesn't believe in frivoulous lawsuits. That said, she believes the government shouldn't be filing legal briefs to protect drug companies at the expense of the public health.

">San Francisco Chronicle July 25, 2004

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