A recent editorial in Modern Medicine reported that the Nevada Supreme Court will be deciding whether or not pharmacies can be held liable for death or injuries caused by a customer under the influence of prescription medication. In June of 2004, Patricia Copening, while under the influence of hydrocodone, drove her car into two men who had pulled over to fix a flat tire. Robert Martinez was severely injured and Gregory Sanchez Jr died as a result of the accident.
Under Nevada law, prescriptions are tracked in an effort to reduce drug abuse. A year before the accident, the Prescription Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force informed the doctors and pharmacists who supplied Copening with hydrocodone that she could be a drug abuser. The task force urged them to "use their professional expertise to assist patients who may be abusing controlled substances." Because the pharmacies were adequately warned, the victims’ attorneys argue that they are liable for continuing to fill the prescriptions.
Judge Douglas Hernon, for the Eighth Judicial District, dismissed the pharmacies from the lawsuit arguing that Nevada law does not provide for a legal duty to refuse to refill a prescription even if there does exist an ethical duty to protect the public.
Senior Editor, Alania Scott, opined that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it will mean that any pharmacist who is aware that a customer could be a potential drug abuser "must call the doctor, or stand on the legal duty to refuse to fill the prescription."
Steve is the Managing Shareholder of Steven J. Klearman & Associates, a civil litigation law firm located in Reno, Nevada. He practices primarily in the areas of civil litigation and injury law, and has authored one of the definitive guides to Nevada civil law that is widely used by Nevada judges and attorneys, his book entitled Elements of Nevada Legal Theories.