U.S. Supreme Court limits where patients can sue drug companies

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday limited where patients can sue drug companies for compensation from harmful effects.

The justices, in an 8-1 ruling, backed Bristol-Myers Squibb in a case against the state of California.

Residents outside California who said they were harmed by BMS' blood thinner Plavix wanted to join in a lawsuit brought by California residents against the New Jersey-based company.

The out-of-state residents didn't buy the drug or take it in California. Also, the product wasn't manufactured in the state.

But state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 last year the out-of-state plaintiffs could sue the drug company. The justices noted Bristol-Myers Squibb had conducted a national advertising campaign for the drug.

BMS and the U.S. government said California's Supreme Court erred when it agreed that the out-of-state plaintiffs had standing in the case.

"The mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained and ingested Plavix in California -- and allegedly sustained the same injuries as did the non-residents -- does not allow the state to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents' claims," wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the court's opinion.

Jurisdiction is the key, Alito wrote. "Our decision does not prevent the California and out-of-state plaintiffs from joining together in a consolidated action in the States that have general

jurisdiction over BMS," he stated. "BMS concedes that such suits could be brought in either New York or Delaware. ... Alternatively, the plaintiffs who are residents of a particular state -- for example, the 92 plaintiffs from Texas and the 71 from Ohio -- could probably sue together in their home states."

The ruling could limit patients' ability to "forum shop" cases against drugmakers. California has been be a particularly friendly state for injured plaintiffs.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

"I fear the consequences of the court's decision today will be substantial," she wrote. "The majority's rule will make it difficult to aggregate the claims of plaintiffs across the country whose claims may be worth little alone. It will make it impossible to bring a nationwide mass action in state court against defendants who are 'at home' in different states. And it will result in piecemeal litigation and the bifurcation of claims"

Plavix is the brand name for clopidogrel, which went on the market in 1998, and the Food and Drug Administration approved generic versions in 2012.

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