Supreme Court rejects bid to end punitive damages against FDA-regulated drugmakers

by Eric Pearson

In good news for consumers, the United Stated Supreme Court has decided not to review a case in which the drug maker Novartis was arguing that punitive damages should not be allowed in cases involving FDA-regulated drugs. As a result, a North Carolina family’s judgment against the company remains in place.

In 2010, a North Carolina jury decided that Novartis failed to adequately warn about the risks of its Zometa and Aredia bone-strengthening medications taken by Rita Fussman, who died four years ago of breast cancer. In addition to compensatory damages, the jury awarded the family $12.6 million in punitive damages. The amount of punitive damages was reduced to $867,00 under state law caps.

The federal court trial judge upheld the award of punitive damages after reviewing evidence that suggested the drug maker engaged in a high-level cover up concerning the side effects of its drugs. Novartis subsequently lost its appeal, but then petitioned the Supreme Court to review the award of punitive damages

In Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009), the Supreme Court held that—despite the federal government’s regulation of prescription drugs— a state has the right to provide its residents with legal remedies to compensate them for injuries caused by prescription drugs. However, Novartis wanted the Supreme Court to rule that punitive damages, which were not at issue in Wyeth v. Levine, are a different matter and are not allowed. Novartis was asserting that the FDA has “exclusive authority to punish violations of federal law governing the lawful marketing of prescription drugs” and therefore state tort laws should not be allowed to punish the same conduct by imposing punitive damages. The company argued that a punitive damage award imposed in connection with the marketing of an FDA-approved drug should be considered an “impermissible penalty” being imposed under state law for the company’s exercise of its federal right to market the prescription drug.

Without issuing any comment, the Supreme Court has decided not to review the case. As a result, the decision of the courts below in favor of the family will stand.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson is dedicated to fighting for victims of defective drugs

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have made it a career priority to hold drug manufacturers accountable  for their actions by filing lawsuits on behalf of patients hurt by dangerous drugs. We have spent years holding drug companies and medical device manufacturers responsible for the injuries and deaths caused by their reckless conduct. Our law firm has represented hundreds of people hurt by dangerous fentanyl pain patches, defective hip and knee implant devices, and drugs such as Yaz, Actos, Avandia, and Accutane—to name just some examples.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson is AV-rated, the highest legal and ethical rating available from the leading law firm rating service. Our partners Michael Heygood, Jim Orr, and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Heygood and Mr. Orr are additionally Board Certified in Civil Trial Advocacy Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Our partners been voted by their peers as “Super Lawyers” in the state of Texas for several years in a row.*

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we believe that when a drug company sells a drug or medical device that is dangerous and unsafe, they should be held responsible for the damage. We have the resources and experience to protect a person’s rights and the rights of their loved ones against irresponsible pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers.

If you have been injured or have lost someone you care about because of defective or dangerous prescription drugs or medical devices, you deserve to have the manufacturer held responsible and to receive proper compensation. Contact us for a free consultation by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001 or by filling out the free consultation form on this page to find out more about your legal options.


Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2013.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.