High court splits Rezulin case 4-4 with Chief Justice opting out

WASHINGTON Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts decided to sit out the case of Warner-Lambert, a company now owned by Pfizer and Kent, according to the Associated Press. Roberts sat out due to financial holdings in the company and as a result of his uninvolvement, the case resulted in a tie 4-4 vote.

The result is the ruling falls back to the lower court level, which sided against the pharmaceutical company. In the original lawsuit, a number of Michigan residents alleged Rezulin, a drug to combat diabetes, harmed them. Federal regulators approved it despite risks to the liver and cardiovascular system.

In their suit, users of the drug are relying on a Michigan law to allege that the pharmaceutical company engaged in fraud by misleading federal regulators to get the drug approved. The Michigan law shields pharmaceutical companies from product liability lawsuits, unless they committed fraud.

At issue in the case is whether that fraud exception, which allows lawsuits to proceed, is preempted by federal regulation of the pharmaceutical industry. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the exception to the Michigan law was not preempted by federal regulations, enabling the Michigan plaintiffs to pursue the case.

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