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N.J. SC: Michigan law applies to Michigan resident

By John O'Brien | Mar 30, 2007

TRENTON, N.J. - A Michigan man will not be able to make a successful claim in New Jersey that his home state's law doesn't apply to him.

Robert Rowe filed suit against drug manufacturer Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., claiming the company's acne-treating drug Accutane caused him to become depressed and attempt suicide. A Thursday ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court reinstated the trial court's dismissal of his case.

Rowe lived in Michigan his entire life when he filed his complaint in 2001, four years after he was prescribed Accutane. He claimed he sued the company in New Jersey because most of its Accutane-related manufacturing and sales activities and communications with the Food and Drug Administration took place there.

The drug was approved by the FDA in 1982, and Michigan law states that approval by the FDA results in a determination that any health risk warnings issued by the manufacturer are adequate.

The trial court dismissed his case, which was appealed to the Superior Court's Appellate Division. There it was reversed, as the court found New Jersey had the strongest interest in applying its law.

Judge Dorothea Wefing dissented, giving Hoffman-LaRoche the right to appeal. Wefing concluded that New Jersey would become a haven for out-of-state lawsuits if the decision stood.

Superior Court Judge Steven Lefelt, temporarily assigned to the Supreme Court, wrote the opinion that reversed the Superior Court decision.

"To allow a life-long Michigan resident who received a FDA-approved drug in Michigan and alleges injuries sustained in Michigan to by-pass his own state's law and obtain compensation for his injuries in this State's courts completely undercuts Michigan's interests, while overvaluing our true interest in this litigation," Lefelt wrote.

Superior Court Judge Edwin Stern, also on temporary assignment, dissented in part because he feels the decision should wait until a bill that has passed the Michigan House either becomes law or doesn't.

It would repeal some of Michigan's current laws on the matter and "enact a rebuttable presumption that products are safe if they are government safety standards," Lefelt wrote.

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