Two liberal Senators have followed the lead of liberal Democratic House lawmakers and introduced a Senate counterpart to the proposed Medical Device Safety Act of 2008. The bill would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Reigel v. Medtronic, which properly confirmed preemption of state tort suits for FDA-approved medical devices. The bill would permit individuals to sue device makers under state tort laws, and permit state court juries to second-guess the expert decisions of federal regulators. The bill would also encourage the creation of a 50-state hodge-podge of tort-based rules impossible for a manufacturer to comply with.
Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the companion bill to H.R. 6381, which has 62 co-sponsors in the House, and which was introduced in the House in June by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). The Senators’ introductory statement can be viewed here.
The Wall Street Journal weighed in on these issues in an editorial August 13th. Describing the Supreme Court’s “sensible 8-1 ruling earlier this year” in Riegel v. Medtronic, the Journal noted how the FDA’s authority to approve a drug or device pre-empts state product liability laws. “The Court’s decision makes sense for many reasons, not least to avoid creating a sort of double-jeopardy for companies — first having to run the FDA approval maze, then allowing a nationwide quilt of different laws and standards to second-guess that approval.” In 1976 Congress passed the Medical Device Amendments, establishing a national standard with express pre-emption language barring states from imposing their own requirements.
Democratic House member Henry Waxman said the decision “strips consumers of the rights they’ve had for decades.” Who writes this stuff for Henry?, asks the WSJ. Far from representing a radical departure in the law, “the Court’s reasoning upheld what had become a common opinion in the federal court system. In half a dozen holdings, federal circuit courts had already ruled in favor of pre-emption, covering states from Texas to Illinois to Pennsylvania.”
The Journal observed, “What Mr. Waxman really wants to restore is the trial lawyer bingo that can net jackpot jury awards while wreaking havoc on national standards. The FDA approval process is infamously labyrinthine, requiring years and tens of millions of dollars in investment to prove a device is safe and effective.” Of the 8-1 vote, the editorial mentioned, “You’ve got to love it when the tort bar and Democrats accuse those notorious right-wing Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter — who joined the majority opinion — of being the greedy tools of business. Another liberal, John Paul Stevens, joined the majority with some caveats.”