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NC House Delays Votes On Protecting Drug Makers

The House postponed a planned vote on whether to make the state the second in the country to protect pharmaceutical companies from almost all lawsuits.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The North Carolina House of Representatives postponed its planned vote Wednesday on whether to make the state just the second in the country to protect pharmaceutical companies from almost all lawsuits.

The legislation would grant companies immunity from lawsuits if the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for sale.

Michigan is the only state with a similar law. That state's appeals court ruled in March that the law barred Michigan officials from suing Merck & Co. to recover millions of dollars spent on Vioxx, an arthritis drug pulled from the market because of health risks in 2004.

Attorney General Roy Cooper's office said Wednesday the law would have prevented state prosecutors from pursuing millions of dollars in settlements with drug companies over the past four years. The money collected goes to fund public schools and to reimburse the state Medicaid system.

A lawyer who's represented drug companies says they want protection from jurors lacking scientific expertise whose decisions could overrule years of research by regulators.

The measure also would allow only a quarter of large damage awards intended to punish bad behavior to go to the victim, with the other 75 percent of a punitive award of more than $100,000 going to a state fund.

The proposed law is part of a larger effort by GOP legislators working with the state's chamber of commerce, which has made liability law changes a top priority this year. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Johnathan Rhyne, R-Lincoln, has said the GOP is seeking to make the state's courts more business-friendly.
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