Thursday, March 5, 2009

Victory bittersweet for drug liability case victim

March 5, 2009

MARSHFIELD, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont musician who lost her arm after a botched drug injection says the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold a $6.7 million verdict against the pharmaceutical company that made the drug is a victory for consumers.

"I just feel really good for what this means for the whole country," said Diana Levine, 63. "The money, to me, means the company was held accountable for something that didn't need to happen, number one.

"So hopefully, they'll learn their lesson from it and change the label so this doesn't happen to any more people," she said.

Rejecting calls for limits on lawsuits against drug companies, the high court on Wednesday upheld the award against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the maker of anti-nausea drug Phenergan. In a 6-3 ruling, the court turned away Wyeth's claim that U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the drug and its warning label should have shielded the company from Levine's suit.

Levine's nightmare began in 2000.

Suffering from a migraine headache, she went to a local clinic and was given painkillers and received an intramuscular injection of Phenergan. When she still felt nauseated, she was given an "IV-push" of the drug, with the second injection accidentally puncturing an artery. Gangrene set in. Several weeks later, her right arm was amputated.

"It basically took away my whole musical identity. I'd been playing music for 30 years, working with kids, writing songs. I played guitar, piano, bass in a rock band. I couldn't do any of those things anymore," she said.

She lost more than her music and her livelihood.

Suddenly, what was routine became a challenge. The drawers in her 150-year-old farmhouse needed two hands to be opened. A left-hander, she still had one hand to use, but she relied on it to compensate so much that she injured it with overuse.

She couldn't shovel or scrape ice off the windshield of her car, a real hardship in rural Vermont. In summer, she can't open a window without help.

"Nobody, nobody understands what it's like to just operate with one hand. Everything you do requires two hands, even when you think you only need one," she said.

For years, Levine wondered whether Wyeth would ever be held accountable.

On Wednesday, it was.

In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said Wyeth could "unilaterally strengthen its warning," especially after it learned of at least 20 cases before Levine's injury in which an injection led to gangrene and amputation.

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