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Abdullahi v. Pfizer, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Pfizer misrepresented the effectiveness of an experimental drug, Trovan, by providing smaller doses of an effective drug, Ceftriaxone, to patients in northern Nigeria infected with bacterial meningitis. The families of children who died or left seriously impaired as a result of the misrepresentation sued Pfizer under the Alien Tort Statute, claiming that Pfizer violated international law.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A foreign citizen can sue in the United States for torts committed outside of the United States.

    Facts.

    Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company, conducted drug trials for an experimental antibiotic called Trovan in northern Nigeria in 1996 during an outbreak of bacterial meningitis. Pfizer gave one-hundred children at the local hospital Trovan and gave another one-hundred children Ceftriaxone, the established antiobiotic to treat bacterial meningitis, at lower doses to allude to the success of Trovan. Pfizer did not receive consent from the patients or their parents to take the experimental drug, inform the patients or their parents of the experimental nature of the study, or that the effective drug to treat bacterial meningitis was being administered in the same hospital. Eleven of the children who took Trovan and the reduced doses of Ceftriaxone died and several other children were left with permanent impairments. The children and their families (plaintiffs) sued Pfizer (Defendant) under the Alien Tort Statute, claiming that Pfizer’s actions violated international law. The district court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and the plaintiffs appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a foreign citizen can sue in United States Federal Court for torts committed outside of the United States.

    Held.

    Yes. Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion.

    The Alien Tort Statute allows foreign citizens to sue in the United States for any tort committed that violates the law of nations or United States treaties.


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