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Law School Case Brief

Reyes v. Wyeth Labs. - 498 F.2d 1264 (5th Cir. 1974)

Rule:

Pharmaceutical companies, who must warn ultimate purchasers of dangers inherent in patent drugs sold over the counter, in selling prescription drugs are required to warn only the prescribing physician, who acts as a "learned intermediary" between manufacturer and consumer. 

Facts:

Appellant pharmaceutical manufacturer developed a polio vaccine that was partially funded by national health organizations. Many individuals used the vaccine for purposes of eliminating the virus. Appellees' daughter subsequently ingested the vaccine and became seriously ill. As a result, litigation ensued in which the parents brought a strict liability cause of action against the vaccine manufacturer, alleging that the product was unreasonably dangerous. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of the parents pursuant to a jury verdict. The vaccine manufacturer challenged this judgment, arguing that explanation of the side effects of the product were duties maintained by health organizations issuing the vaccine, not the manufacturer. 

Issue:

Did the vaccine manufacturer have a duty to market and inform potential customers of dangerous side effects of a vaccine?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the federal district court, holding that the manufacturer had a duty to market and inform potential customers of the dangerous vaccine. Further, the duty was heightened since the manufacturer had knowledge of the vaccine's harmful possibilities.

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