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The Supreme Court is staying out of a dispute between Nigerian families and Pfizer, Inc., over the drug maker's use of a new antibiotic on children during a deadly outbreak of meningitis in the mid-1990s.

The justices on Tuesday rejected the pharmaceutical giant's appeal of a court ruling that allowed the lawsuits filed by the Nigerians in U.S. courts to go forward. The families allege that Pfizer violated international law against involuntary medical experimentation when it tested the drug, Trovan. The company failed to get the informed consent of the children or their parents, or to tell them that the drug had not been approved for use in children, the lawsuits say.

The lawsuits say the two-week experiment on 200 sick children led to 11 deaths and left many others blind, paralyzed or brain-damaged. Pfizer denies all the allegations and claims the survival rate for children who took Trovan exceeded the survival rate of those who did not take part in the study.

At issue was whether the Nigerians can sue under the Alien Tort Statute, an 18th century law that allows foreigners to sue in U.S. courts over international law violations. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said they can.


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