Senate passes Irwin bill to eliminate drug industry immunity, restore justice for victims and families 

LANSING, Mich. (Oct. 18, 2023) — Today, the Michigan Senate voted 308 to overwhelmingly pass Senate Bill 410, legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) to rescind Michigan’s law that limits drug manufacturers’ liability for medicine that has harmed or killed Michigan residents — the only law of its kind in the country.

Restoring accountability for drug companies has been a goal of mine throughout my time in the Legislature,” said Sen. Irwin. “By repealing our state’s immunity law for the drug industry, SB 410 will restore accountability to drug manufacturers and vital access to justice for our state and its people.

Michigan currently is the only state with a law on the books that offers drug manufacturers broad immunity for product liability as long as the drug has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. This law has shielded big pharmaceutical companies and hampered Michiganders and their families’ ability to pursue justice and recoup damages if a faulty prescription drug has led to injury or death.

“For too long, residents and loved ones who were harmed by the very medicines that were supposed to help them have had no legal recourse, even as courts have awarded millions of dollars to residents and communities everywhere else around the nation,” said Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.), an attorney and Majority Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public SafetyToday’s action, and strong bipartisanship behind it, are a major win for Michigan and our Senate majority for the people.”

The state’s drug immunity law has prevented Michigans residents and Attorney General from participating in national class action suits or filing complaints against pharmaceutical companies. Some of the litigation against pharmaceutical companies has resulted in significant amounts of restitution for residents of other states. 

In 2011, Attorney General Mike Cox’s lawsuit against Merck for $20.0 million was dismissed under the immunity protection. In 2020, a Circuit Court dismissed Attorney General Dana Nessel’s claims of negligence and public nuisance against opioid distributors, also under the immunity protection. Likewise, local governments, who previously failed in opioid-related lawsuits, would have a clearer path toward compensation by litigation. In 2020, claims made by Monroe County of negligence, public nuisance, unjust enrichment, fraud, and civil conspiracy related to the fraudulent marketing of opioids were dismissed as products liability actions under the immunity protection.

Michigan Democrats have been fighting for consumers and the repeal of drug industry immunity in the three decades since it was signed by Gov. John Engler in 1995. Michigan being a legal haven for drug manufacturers did not result in the state being a hub for them, and the promised windfall of jobs was never delivered. Additionally, as the law not only impeded individual lawsuits on deadly and faulty drugs like Vioxx and fen-phen but the ability for Michigan and local communities to receive settlement money from the opioid epidemic, public and political opinion on the law continued to shift, resulting in today’s strongly bipartisan vote.