Eight years after she was burned and blinded by a prescription drug, Karen Bartlett feels numb.
This week the Supreme Court ruled that Mutual Pharmaceutical Co., the maker of the drug Bartlett took for shoulder pain, should not be held responsible for her injuries because the company had copied the brand drug's formula and warning label.
"I was numb," Bartlett said of the moment her lawyer delivered the news. "I don't even have words to describe it because I can't believe that they would do that."
In a five-four decision, the court ruled Monday that generic drug makers could not be sued by patients over defective drug design because they're required by federal law to copy their brand-name counterparts. The ruling overturns the verdict from Bartlett's 2010 New Hampshire Superior Court trial in which a jury awarded her $21 million in damages, as well as the decision by an appeals court to uphold the verdict.
"I can't believe the Supreme Court can just say, 'I'm sorry, you guys are wrong,'" said Bartlett, whose body is scarred from the fierce reaction to sulindac, a generic version of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug Clinoril. "It boggles my mind. I just don't get it."
Bartlett remembers little from the three months she spent at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2004, "wrapped up like a mummy" as the skin eroded two-thirds of her body. She was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and sometimes fatal reaction triggered by certain medications, including NSAIDS like Clinoril and sulindac.
The ordeal left her disfigured and legally blind. She also has lung damage and difficulty swallowing.
"I have no independence," said Bartlett, 53, who lives off disability checks for a fraction of the salary she once earned as a secretary at an insurance company in Plaistow, N.H. "This ruined my life, basically."'