Washington Secrets

Democratic bid to allow suits against generic drugs called 'trial lawyer bonanza'

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A demand by House and Senate Democrats that the Food and Drug Administration clear the way to let consumers sue generic drug makers is coming under fire, with critics dubbing the effort a payoff to trial lawyers.

At issue is a new Supreme Court ruling barring suits against generic drug firms accused of providing insufficient label warnings. The 5-4 decision restricts suits for so-called design defect or drug-safety complaints, arguing that generic makers have to use the same labeling as the original drug maker. As a result, only the makers of brand-name drug can be sued.

The case prompted Democrats like Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen to demand that the FDA change its rules to let consumers sue generic drug makers, which supply some 80 percent of all prescription drugs.

"These cases mean that patients who take the generic version of a prescription drug may be left without a remedy if they are injured -- even though consumers who take the brand-name version of the drug may seek recourse for their injuries," said Leahy in a statement.

But several conservative groups are attacking that effort. "This is a transparent trial lawyer ploy. The cost and burden of litigating these cases will result in increased pharmaceutical prices and force companies to spend monies that could otherwise be devoted to research and development, jobs and manufacturing," said the groups in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. They include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Limited Government and the Independent Women's Forum.

"Our healthcare system is struggling greatly under the weight of Obamacare, a law that makes the government a larger purchaser of drugs than ever before," they said. Any legislative effort to change the rules, they added, "would become one of the biggest trial lawyer bonanzas in recent history. We ask you to actively oppose such legislation when it is introduced and stop any momentum that it might hope to gain."

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.

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