Case Involving $21 Million Verdict May Determine Future Liability for Defective Generic Drugs


April 04, 2013

When most people go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription from their doctor, they are usually happy to receive the generic version of the medication because it is much less expensive. This practice is so common that most states have laws that permit a pharmacist to substitute the generic version of a drug for the equivalent brand name when filling a prescription. Four in every five prescriptions are filled using a generic medication, but consumers may soon be asking for the brand name, depending on the Supreme Court’s ruling in a pending case, according to a Reuter’s report.

The case, Mutual Pharmaceutical Company v. Bartlett, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-142, will consider whether drug companies are liable for severe injuries and complications caused by the defective design of generic drugs. The case involves a drug company Mutual Pharmaceutical Company, a unit of URL Pharma, which is requesting the Supreme Court overturn a $21 million verdict awarded to Karen Bartlett for a severe incidence of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Bartlett suffered severe complications three weeks after taking the medications that caused her skin to peel away as well as severe lesions over much of her body. Bartlett was forced to spend two months in the burn unit of a hospital, including time in a medically induced coma. She also was forced to undergo thirteen eye surgeries. Her injuries left Bartlett nearly blind and suffering from difficulty swallowing and scarred lungs.

The pharmaceutical company is asking the Supreme Court to reverse an appellate court decision upholding the $21 million dollar verdict because federal law requires companies that manufacture generic drugs use the same design as the brand name drug. The pharmaceutical company is requesting that the Supreme Court extend its ruling in PLIVA v. Mensing that bars liability against makers of generic drugs based on a failure to warn of adverse side effects because generic drugs must carry the same label as the brand name equivalent.

The Boston appellate court upheld the jury verdict by distinguishing the Mensing case from Bartlett’s situation. The court reasoned that the drug company had the option of discontinuing sale of the generic version of the brand name drug Clinoril®. The ruling in this case could have a devastating impact on the ability of those who suffer life-altering adverse medical conditions and injuries to seek compensation against drug companies for injuries caused by generic drugs. Because our defective drug attorneys at Montlick and Associates are committed to holding drug companies accountable for injuries caused by their drugs, we hope the Supreme Court preserves the right to hold manufacturers of generic drugs liable for the defective design of their drugs. If the Supreme Court rules against Bartlett, future victims may be faced with the unpleasant choice of insisting on the higher priced brand name or forgoing the protection offered by imposing liability on the manufacturer of an unsafe generic drug.

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