Pfizer has won the latest round in the protracted liability battle over injures related to the shelved diabetes drug Rezulin (troglitazone).

The US Supreme Court has said it will consider granting Pfizer subsidiary company Warner Lambert the right to appeal against a lawsuit by patients who claim they were injured by the drug.

The company is trying to overturn the decision by a New York appeals court to allow plaintiffs to proceed with liability claims in a Michigan state court. Michigan state has recently become a more hostile place for the industry in civil law terms.

PharmaTimes World News reported in February this year how Michigan's House of Representatives had voted to repeal an 11-year-old law which gave pharmaceutical manufacturers protection against "unreasonable" lawsuits.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said product liability against drugs companies should only be waived in exceptional circumstances. In its ruling the court declared: "Because of its important role in state regulation of matters of health and safety, common law liability cannot be easily displaced in our federal system."

The New York verdict itself overturned the 2005 ruling by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He had stated that pharmaceutical companies were not liable in such cases unless there was evidence the company misrepresented or withheld material information in obtaining approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the drug.

Pfizer is now urging the Supreme Court to overturn the appeal court holding and interpret federal law in a way that would make it more difficult for consumers to sue under state laws over injuries linked to prescription medicines.

Arguments to be heard next year

The justices will hear arguments in the case earlier next year, with a decision likely by the end of June. A company spokesman for Pfizer was not available for comment.

Pfizer, which acquired Warner-Lambert three months after Rezulin was withdrawn, has already fought thousands of lawsuits claiming that Warner-Lambert failed to inform the public of the drug's liver toxicity.

The FDA had the drug pulled from the market in March 2000 after it emerged that nearly 100 recipients had died from liver failure or needed liver transplants.

A report in Bloomberg has even claimed that a ruling in the drugmaker's favour could help Merck & Co. in its lawsuits related to Vioxx. Michael Day