Whitmer signs law making it easier to sue drug companies

By Kyle Kaminski

December 7, 2023

Michiganders who are harmed by faulty drugs will be able to pursue legal action against pharmaceutical companies under a new law signed this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

MICHIGAN—Legislation signed into law this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will enable Michiganders to sue pharmaceutical companies over potentially dangerous or defective drugs, making Michigan the last state in the country to finally repeal its shield laws for Big Pharma.

“Today, Michigan joins every other state in the nation as we create a stronger path to hold drug companies accountable in cases of wrongdoing,” Whitmer said in a statement after signing Senate Bill 410 into law on Thursday. “When you take a prescription drug, you should have confidence to know that it is safe, and if it harms you or your family, you deserve accountability.”

The long-sought legislation—which was introduced by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and passed by Democratic lawmakers last month—will erase a provision in state law that has protected manufacturers and sellers of drugs from product liability claims under certain situations and prevented Michiganders from holding them accountable for drugs that result in injury or death.

Michigan is the only state in the nation with laws that specifically protect Big Pharma from product liabilities. State lawmakers have said that repealing the provision will force more companies to accept responsibility when they “knowingly defraud and harm” the public. 

“Michigan has been alone in preventing residents from seeking justice when pharmaceutical companies harm them or someone they love,” Irwin said in a statement. “The repeal of our state’s immunity law for the drug industry restores accountability for drug manufacturers.”

For now, drug companies are still immune from product liability in Michigan as long as their products are properly labeled and approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and if the company didn’t fraudulently obtain approval by bribing someone or lying about their drugs.

When the newly signed law takes effect in February, that provision will be erased altogether.

“By fighting for consumers, we will ensure that companies doing good work can outcompete and outperform companies that prioritize padding their profits over delivering quality products for people,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Let’s keep working together to make Michigan a safer place where you can get better when you’re sick and have a great quality of life.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has also criticized the law for hindering her ability to investigate drug companies that contribute to the opioid epidemic or price gouge for insulin, as well as limiting the recovery of tax dollars paid out from the Medicaid program due to fraud.

In 2011, Attorney General Mike Cox’s lawsuit against Merck for $20 million was also reportedly dismissed under immunity protection. And in 2020, a court dismissed claims of negligence and public nuisance against opioid distributors, again citing immunity protection in state law. Local governments have faced similar barriers in their litigation against pharmaceutical companies.

According to a legislative analysis, the existing state law has also prevented Michiganders (including Nessel) from participating in national class-action lawsuits and from filing complaints against pharmaceutical companies. Under the bill, legal recourse would become an option—including the ability to recover damages if faulty drugs lead to injuries or death.

Michigan’s immunity shield law was also cited by a federal judge earlier this year in a $425 million settlement against a company whose heartburn drugs caused chronic kidney injuries, where the claims of nearly 200 Michiganders were dismissed and excluded from the settlement.

“This bill was never about opening the floodgates of litigation; it’s always been about putting Michigan and its residents on an even playing field,” Nessel said in a statement this week.

READ MORE: Dems to stop Big Pharma from gouging Michiganders for drugs

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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