Drug Law Prohibits Taking Legal Action: Group is Working Toward Repeal

Traverse City Record-Eagle
Sunday, March 16, 2008

Before her husband suffered a stroke after taking the drug Celebrex for back pain, Leslee Wiltjer was looking forward to buying a motor home so her family could travel.

Now retirement is just a dream.

"I can't even think of that anymore," said Wiltjer, a special needs bus driver for Boyne City schools. "I'm going to work until the day I drop."

Margaret Dodd is single and self-employed. Since she suffered liver damage after taking the antibiotic doxycycline, she lost thousands of dollars in wages and out-of-pocket expenses for tests and treatment.

But because of a unique 1996 Michigan law that grants immunity to drug manufacturers when their products injure or kill, neither family can sue the drug companies for damages.

Now Wiltjer is an activist with Drug Industry Immunity Must End (D.I.I.M.E.), a group of Michigan residents who say they were harmed by prescription drugs they believed were safe. They're working toward the repeal of the law that bars them from holding drug companies responsible. Since the law took effect, dozens of Michigan residents who have taken drugs like Vioxx and Rezulin have tried unsuccessfully to join class-action lawsuits against their makers, only to have their claims tossed out. Wiltjer thinks that's wrong, especially in cases where drug makers commit fraud to get their product approved.

Although a bill that would repeal the drug shield law passed the Michigan House of Representatives in February 2007, it has languished in the Senate.

"Any time something comes out of the House and goes to the Senate that (Senate Judiciary Committee Chair) Wayne Kuipers or (Senate Majority Leader) Mike Bishop doesn't like, it gets buried," said Tim Smith, an attorney with the Smith and Johnson Law Firm in Traverse City. "Why? Look at the corporate interest and special interest groups that have dumped into Kuipers' campaign fund."

Although his firm doesn't handle product liability litigation, Smith said his office gets many calls from people who believe they have been harmed by a medication they have been prescribed. He also blogs regularly about the issue of drug company immunity and the Michigan law, which the non-partisan public interest Center for Justice and Democracy called a "tragic blunder" in a Feb. 28 report.

"Unfortunately I have to tell them you live in the one state that does not allow liability, even in pending class action suits or when drugs have been removed from the market," he said.

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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