Michigan Capitol during the holidays | Susan J. Demas
A bill repealing a Michigan law preventing state lawsuits against drug manufacturers passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 410, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), passed 79-30 in an overwhelming show of support for the rollback of the 1995 law. It’s now up to the Senate to approve the final version before it goes to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Designed to make Michigan more accommodating to pharmaceutical companies and biomedical manufacturers, the law signed by GOP former Gov. John Engler ended up prohibiting citizens and governments from suing in state courts for injuries caused by prescription drugs for nearly 30 years.
The law exempts drug manufacturers or sellers from liability if the drug in question obtained legitimate FDA approval with compliant labeling. Most recently, the law was cited as reason to dismiss 200 Michiganders from a February federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which resulted in a $425 million settlement after the company’s heartburn drugs were found to have caused kidney injuries.
“The Michigan Product Liability Act has been used for far too long to shield pharmaceutical companies from accepting responsibility when they knowingly defraud and harm the public,” said Attorney General Dana Nessel in a statement. “While my Department was ultimately successful in litigating claims against a host of opioid defendants, the existence of this unique provision greatly complicated the approach. I applaud the legislature for finally addressing this one-of-a-kind bill that placed protections for large corporations over the safety of Michigan residents.
Democrats had long opposed the policy and made it a key issue in campaigns in the early 2000s, but it failed to gain traction in the past with strong GOP opposition. However, that appears to have weakened after lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and opposition to COVID-19 vaccines from many right-wing groups.
In October, the bill was unanimously voted out of the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee after receiving opposition testimony from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. The Senate quickly approved the bill on a 30-8 vote.
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