MI Senate votes to lift drug company immunity from lawsuits
Michigan’s law that offers sweeping immunity to shield drug manufacturers from liability lawsuits is a step closer to being erased under a bill approved Wednesday by the Michigan Senate.
Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) is the bill sponsor. He said Michigan is the only state in the country to offer that sort of protection to drug companies.
“If the idea is that in order to get more drug manufacturers here, we have to prevent our citizens from having the right to go into court when their loved one is killed by a pharmaceutical product or when a loved one’s harmed by the negligence of some company, that’s awful,” he said. “And I think we have a moral responsibility to say, no, we are going to stand up for our people and when folks harm them through negligence, there has to be a path of accountability.”
An analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency cites testimony during committee hearings that Michigan is the only state that offers a blanket defense to drug manufacturers and distributors.
The analysis also says immunity protection has blocked the state from filing complaints and from joining class action lawsuits against drug companies. That includes a lawsuit filed in 2011 by then-Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, against Merck, and a negligence and public nuisance lawsuit filed in 2020 against opioid distributors by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.
The bill was adopted on a 30-8 bipartisan vote. The “no” votes were all cast by Republicans. They include Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township). He said he is open to changing the law, but Democrats are giving away too much to trial lawyers.
“I think the state’s been pretty far over on one side,” he said. “We don’t need to go full sue-happy on the other side. I think there’s a middle ground to be reached and they weren’t willing to reach a middle ground … and that’s disappointing.”
The bill now goes to the state House.