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Actor backs right to sue companies

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Actor Dennis Quaid detailed for Congress the accidental drug overdose that nearly killed his newborn twins last year, and urged legislators yesterday to preserve a patient's option to hold drug and medical device makers liable for medication errors.

Choking up once, Quaid lent his high profile to Democrats seeking to block a Bush administration effort to immunize companies from many such suits if their products had approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The actor recalled for a House committee his family's 41-hour ordeal anxiously waiting for the twins to recover.

"Like many Americans, I have always believed that a big problem in this country was frivolous lawsuits. But now I know that the courts are often the only path for families that are harmed by the drug companies' negligence," said Quaid, who deflected questioning from some Republicans by saying he was a longtime party member.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this fall on limiting many personal injury lawsuits against drug companies that received FDA approval.

In February, the court shielded medical device manufacturers from many of the claims.

Quaid's twins, Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace, were given 1,000 times the intended dosage of the blood thinner heparin while hospitalized for staph infections last November at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

While Quaid and his wife, Kimberly, have not sued the hospital so far, they did file a lawsuit against Baxter Healthcare Corp. in a Chicago court contending that the heparin maker knew that other infants had died as a result of improper labeling.

They claim that the company had begun making heparin with new labels but failed to recall the old, potent vials mistakenly given to the Quaid's twins.

Baxter, of Deerfield, Ill., has blamed improper use and asked a judge to throw the suit out on a number of grounds, including the FDA's approval of its product.

Quaid said patients would suffer if a court threw out lawsuits like his family's because FDA approval trumped, or pre-empted, the decisions of state courts.

"I believe that if pre-emption of lawsuits is allowed to prevail, it will make all of us - the public - uninformed and uncompensated lab rats," he said.

The actor's presence, in a dark pinstriped suit, brought more than a phalanx of camera crews, a People magazine reporter and a horde of onlookers who snapped photographs on their cell phones and solicited autographs during a break.

It also attracted attention to an otherwise dry but consequential policy debate.

The Bush administration has pushed federal pre-emption for a variety of different industries as a way to limit costly litigation and encourage innovation.

Randall Lutter, FDA's deputy commissioner for policy, testified that state courts shouldn't second-guess the agency's expert conclusions.

He also said that damaging state court verdicts could prompt drug companies to issue so many warnings that patients might get confused or even deterred from using a beneficial drug.

Yet some Republicans were clearly star-struck.

After reading a statement attacking "predatory trial lawyers," Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia identified with Quaid's plight during questioning.

If "this had been my kids, I'd be suing everyone in sight. This should not happen," said Davis, who later had a staff member photograph him standing beside Quaid.

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