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OPINION SOUGHT IN TORT CASE

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WASHINGTON-The Supreme Court has "invited" the U.S. solicitor general to file a brief stating the government's interest in a product liability case.

The case, Iolab Corp. vs. Ruth Hunter, involves the breadth of the pre-emption against product liability suits granted to manufacturers of certain medical devices by the 1976 Medical Device Amendments to the Food and Drug Act.

Last year, the court limited the pre-emption in its decision in Medtronic Inc. vs. Lohr, but left unclear how much greater an exposure medical device manufacturers would face (BI, July 1, 1996). In Iolab vs. Hunter, which involved injuries allegedly caused by an implanted lens that had been covered by the Food and Drug Administration's "investigational device exemption," the Missouri Supreme Court took an expansive view of the Medtronic decision and precluded all pre-emption defenses for Iolab, the Johnson & Johnson Co. unit that manufactured the lens.

The justices have not scheduled hearings yet, but last week asked the solicitor general if the federal government wishes to make its concerns known.

In another action last week, the justices agreed to hear a Louisiana case-Dolores V. Oubre vs. Entergy Operations Inc.-involving the right of workers to sue for alleged age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act after they have accepted a severance package.