The Supreme Court of the United States may be best known for hearing cases that capture the attention and imagination of the American public, but that is not all they do. In fact, on October 2, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States heard motions on a case that we have been paying close attention to, even if the public at large has not. That case involved GlaxoSmithKline, LLC, the manufacturers of the popular anti-depressant Paxil.
GSK is a UK company, but its American division is headquartered in Philadelphia and incorporated in Delaware. Paxil is sold in pharmacies throughout the country. In a 2014 lawsuit filed in Illinois, 16 people – 8 mothers and 8 children, from 6 different states (including Illinois) – claimed that Paxil, when ingested by the mothers during their pregnancy, led to congenital, catastrophic birth defects in the children. The lawsuit against GSK alleged:
- “strict liability and failure to warn,
- strict products liability and design defect,
- breach of implied warranty,
- breach of express warranty, and
- negligent misrepresentation and concealment.”
GSK, of course, moved to dismiss the case, claiming “it was not subject to general jurisdiction because Illinois is neither the state of its incorporation nor its principal place of business.” Furthermore, they claimed:
“Illinois lacks specific jurisdiction because the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims did not arise from its Illinois activities. Moreover, defendant GSK claimed that its actions or omissions in Illinois were not the ‘but for’ cause of the alleged harm: plaintiffs did not serve as study subjects in Illinois, did not receive Paxil prescriptions in Illinois, did not ingest Paxil in Illinois, and did not suffer injury from Paxil in Illinois. Finally, defendant GSK argued that the out-of-state plaintiffs may not create personal jurisdiction by tacking their claims onto those of the two Illinois plaintiffs.”
A lower court ruled against GSK, which then attempted to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. When that, too, failed, they went to the Supreme Court of the United States – and the Supreme Court denied their petition for a writ of certiorari, which means the lower court’s decision stands.
Why this denial is important for victims of dangerous drugs
“Personal jurisdiction” has been used as an argument by drug companies before, to avoid lawsuit filings in states that are deemed “less friendly” to those companies – or, in layman’s terms, in states where a strong civil justice system exists to protect people, not profits. The decision of the Supreme Court, to allow the original decision to stand, sets a precedent for other drug companies seeking to use the same loopholes to avoid lawsuits over dangerous and defective drugs.
It also holds these drug companies accountable for their actions in the states where those actions are committed. GSK held between 18 and 22 clinical trials in Illinois. Even though the plaintiffs in this case were not a part of those trials, one cannot deny that GSK has significant ties to that state. This renders their argument that Illinois has no jurisdiction moot. And as trials like these can (and do) happen in all 50 states, drug companies can be tied to actions in all 50 states, meaning plaintiffs can file lawsuits with confidence in regard to jurisdiction.
There will always be exceptions, of course. Not every case will proceed as this one did, nor will every case move on to be heard by the Supreme Court. But for those of us who fight on behalf of victims, this is a “win”: for our clients, and for the civil justice system.
Plattner Verderame, P.C. offers honest guidance and aggressive representation for injured clients throughout Arizona. If you were harmed because of a defective medical device or dangerous drug, our Phoenix product liability lawyers are here to help. Please call us at 602-783-8793, or fill out our convenient contact form, to learn more.