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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
Attorney • (866) 249-3164

Law suits keep consumers safe

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The Founding Fathers understood that lawsuits are a necessary means for a nation of civilized citizens to resolve their disputes. Hence, the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution which preserves an absolute right to trial by jury. These days, powerful special interest groups and their cronies in Congress make much noise about restricting the right to trial by jury for consumers (never for businesses who the tort reformers believe should have unfettered rights to suel). One of the proponents of abrogating the right of citizens to trial by jury is Newt Gingrich, who also happens to be perpetually testing the presidential waters. When Gingrich was the Speaker of the House, he famously proposed doing away with the FDA and letting the pharmaceutical industry police itself. I wonder what interest group put him up to that idea?

I also wonder how much harm Gingrich’s idea would have caused if it had come to fruition. In the 16 years since the so-called Contract with America, the FDA has recalled a host of really dangerous prescription drugs, medical devices, and tainted food. However, one is constantly reminded that the FDA is often not up to the job of protecting the public. It is understaffed and too often influenced by the very interest groups it is supposed to regulate. Cronyism continues to corrupt. In a free market economy in which the regulators are appointed by politicians beholden to the special interestes, lawsuits are the last means of consumer protection.

Just this month, GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical makers, agreed to pay $750 million to settle a Justice Department lawsuit accusing the company of selling adulterated and improperly made drugs. The settlement, to be announced at a news conference Tuesday in Boston, is the result of a long-running federal investigation of the company’s drug manufacturing plant in Cidra, Puerto Rico.

The government claimed that the plant churned out medications that were mislabeled, mixed up in the wrong packaging, and even defective — made either too weak or too strong. The allegations included such popular prescription drugs as Paxil and Avandia.

The Justice Department’s original lawsuit claimed that the plant mixed different strengths of some pills together, such as both 30 mg and 10 mg tablets in the same bottle. The government also claimed that some drugs were contaminated with micro-organisms, including an ointment used to treat sking infections in small children and an injectable drug for treating nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

A big factor in the lawsuit was the role of a former manager of quality assurance for GSK who became a whistleblower after she was fired.

If the special interest groups who fund the tort reform movement had their way, lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies would be banned through preemption and the protections afforded whistleblowers would be eliminated.