Washington, D.C. — Supreme Court conservatives on Monday sounded sympathetic to a drug company's pleas for protection from state court lawsuits.
In the highest profile business case of the year, several justices appeared ready to declare that federal regulations pre-empted certain state lawsuits. That would be a major victory for the drug company, Wyeth, as well as many other businesses seeking to fend off expensive state-by-state legal challenges.
"The name of this game is balancing benefits and costs," Justice Antonin Scalia said, "and if you simply eliminate drugs which people have real desperate need for : you're not benefiting the public."
Chief Justice John Roberts joined Scalia in raising questions helpful to Wyeth's cause, as did, albeit less vehemently, Justice Samuel Alito. The three justices have previously combined to restrict lawsuits in other cases and could form the core of a majority favoring Wyeth in the new case.
The case is called Wyeth v. Levine. Wyeth is a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company that posted $22 billion in revenues last year.
Levine is Diana Levine, a 63-year-old Vermont resident and former professional musician. Her right hand and forearm were amputated eight years ago after she contracted gangrene following an injection of a Wyeth anti-nausea drug called Phenergan.