Dems Take Aim on Michigan's Drug Maker Protection Law

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Michigan's law protecting drug companies from product liability lawsuits came under attack Wednesday during a state House committee hearing.

Democrats have introduced bills that would repeal a 1996 law making it more difficult for Michigan residents to sue for damages from side effects of prescription drugs that have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The House Judiciary Committee was expected to vote on the measures Wednesday, possibly sending the bills to the full House for future consideration.

Critics say the Michigan law harms patients who have no recourse in state courts and cannot trust the FDA to adequately protect them.

Supporters of Michigan's law say it helps protect companies from frivolous lawsuits that can divert money and attention from research and development of new drugs that save lives.

House Republicans held a hearing on similar legislation last year, but it died without getting a vote. Democrats, who have been trying to get this legislation passed since 2005, are now in control of the state House. Republicans still control the Senate, however, so the bills face a tougher challenge getting passed in that chamber.

The legislation is becoming a high stakes, big money issue in Michigan.

Supporters of allowing more lawsuits say Michigan residents deserve the same rights of those living in other states to take on big drug companies.

But the Michigan Chamber of Commerce says that changing the law to allow more lawsuits could cost Michigan jobs as drug companies spend money to defend themselves in court.

Merck & Co., for example, has said it faces more than 27,000 personal injury lawsuits over the painkiller Vioxx.

The company pulled the drug from the market in 2004.

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