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Commentary

Don't Expose drug makers to business killing lawsuits
Detroit News, 12-18-06

This editorial, from the Detroit News, argues that repealing Michigan laws designed to protect pharmaceutical companies from frivolous lawsuits would cost the state jobs without addressing critics' real concerns.

Gov. John Engler and a GOP-controlled Legislature 10 years ago created laws stating that in Michigan courts, if a pharmaceutical is tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the manufacturer is immune from legal liability. Exceptions in the statute allow for suits if it can be shown that a drug maker either engaged in bribery to obtain FDA approval, or deliberately and knowingly withheld information about a drug's dangers from the FDA. Ever since it was passed, the statute has been a target for the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association and its allies in the Legislature.

This is the kind of employment and research the state is trying to encourage. In fact, according to the state Chamber of Commerce, there are more than 12,000 pharmaceutical jobs in Michigan paying an average of $60,000 each. Pfizer alone has 2,700 employees in Ann Arbor. The company's Web site notes its collaboration with the University of Michigan on several projects. The argument of advocates wanting to make it easier to sue drug companies is that the FDA approval process is flawed and victims of drugs that produce bad side effects have little recourse.

First, the answer to a flawed approval process—if that is the case—is to repair the approval process, not invite more class-action lawsuits that cripple companies.

Second, there is no guarantee that greater liability produces greater safety. In an economics journal article published this summer, University of Michigan law professor Omri Ben-Shahar studied the results of Merck's recall of the drug Vioxx, which resulted in 10,000 lawsuits being filed against it. As a result, other drug makers concluded that the liability system made recalling drugs unwise, according to his findings.

If Michigan is going to take advantage of the research being produced at its major universities, it must have a favorable legal climate. This cuts across both sides of the aisle in Lansing. Republicans will have to ease up on their ban on stem cell research, and Democrats will have to resist the urge to kowtow to the trial lawyers. Michigan's economic condition simply doesn't allow for business as usual in Lansing.



Project FDA.
  
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