Vermont musician celebrates high court ruling

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(Host) The Vermont musician who won a Supreme Court case against a major drug company says she hopes the ruling will help others injured by potentially dangerous products.

Diana Levine of Marshfield was celebrating today after the high court ruled in a closely watched consumer lawsuit.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Diana Levine said she wept tears of joy when she heard the news. She then tried to compose herself as she told her daughter Jessamine that they had won at the US Supreme Court.

(Levine) “Jessamine came in the door, and I tried to be nonchalant and she got in here. And I said, ‘6 to 3.’ And she goes what? I said, ‘6 to 3. We won.’ And she started to cry a little, and she said, ‘Can I really be excited this time?”’

(Dillon) Levine has savored legal victories before, only to see justice delayed.

(Levine) “Because there’s been so many, you know: the Vermont court, then the Vermont Supreme Court. And each time you get excited and you think it’s over. Nine years later. Finally! Wyeth loses and I’m so happy!”

(Dillon) Levine is a song writer and guitarist. Nine years ago, she lost her right arm after a horrible medical accident.

She was injected with a drug made by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to treat nausea associated with migraine headaches. The drug caused severe tissue damage and doctors had to amputate.

Levine sued in Vermont court. And the jury awarded her $6.7 million, ruling that Wyeth should have warned that the injection method was dangerous. The verdict was upheld by the state Supreme Court.

But Wyeth took the case to the U-S Supreme Court. The company claimed it was immune from the state lawsuit because the federal Food and Drug Administration had approved the drug and its label.

The case brought out big guns on both sides. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce weighed in for Wyeth. Consumer groups backed Levine.

Celebrating at her Marshfield farmhouse, Levine said she knew all along that consumer lawsuits in the future against big drug makers could depend on the outcome.

(Levine) "I just pretty much devoted my life to getting the word out about, so that people knew it wasn’t me against Wyeth, this was we against Wyeth."

(Dillon) Levine’s joy was also shared in Barre at Richard Rubin’s Main Street law firm, where a bottle of champagne stood empty on an office table.

The product liability case that Rubin first argued in a Washington County courtroom has become a precedent-setting victory.

(Rubin) “The Supreme Court completely rejected Wyeth’s argument in this case, and they reaffirmed what many of us have always known: that it is the drug manufacturer that has the primary responsibility for making products safely. And that when they injure people, their products are unsafe, then injured consumers have the right to receive fair compensation. And that principle has been vindicated, and we’re really gratified by that.”

(Dillon) Levine says the ruling means she’ll finally be able to collect the jury award. She says some of the money will go to pay for continuing medical treatment.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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