Supreme Court Votes in Favor of Pharmaceutical Company in Product Liability Case

In the case of Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) vs. Superior Court of California, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the California court’s decision to limit where patients can seek compensation from pharmaceutical companies for harm caused by their products.

In the original case filed in California, 678 plaintiffs claimed they were harmed by the drug Plavix, a blood thinner manufactured by BMS; however, only 86 plaintiffs were residents of California. Because BMS did not work on the regulatory approval for Plavix in California, the pharmaceutical company argued that nonresident claims were outside of the state superior court’s jurisdiction. The judges concluded that BMS’s extensive activities in California gave the California courts general jurisdiction and allowed nonresidents to participate in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned this ruling, noting that, because BMS did not develop, market, label, package, or seek regulatory approval for Plavix in California, the state’s claim to jurisdiction over out-of-state plaintiffs was invalid.

Forums against corporations will now be limited to a defendant’s home jurisdiction. In the lone dissent opinion in the case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that this decision may hinder the ability of large-group plaintiffs to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible and seek reparations for harm caused by a drug in the future.

Sources: Politico, June 19, 2017; JD Supra, June 23, 2017.