Nevada Supreme Court Restricts Lawsuits Against Pharamacies

The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that a pharmacy does not owe a duty of care to unidentified third parties who were injured by a pharmacy customer who was driving while under the influence of controlled prescription drugs. 

In reaching the decision, the court rejected the arguments that  pharmacies have a duty to act to prevent a pharmacy customer from injuring members of the general public and that Nevada’s pharmacy statutory and regulatory laws allow third parties to maintain a negligence per se claim for alleged violations concerning dispensation of prescription drugs and maintenance of customers’ records.

Here is the court’s summary of the facts:

On June 4, 2004, while driving on U.S. Highway 95 in Las Vegas, Gregory Sanchez, Jr., stopped on the side of the road to fix a flat tire. Appellant Robert Martinez, Sanchez’s co-worker, arrived at the scene to assist Sanchez. While Martinez and Sanchez were transferring items from Sanchez’s vehicle into Martinez’s vehicle, they were struck by defendant Patricia Copening’s vehicle.[1] As a result of the collision, Sanchez died and Martinez was seriously injured. Copening was arrested for driving under the influence of controlled substances.

Appellants, Sanchez’s minor daughters, his widow, and the personal representatives of his estate, and Martinez and his wife, filed a wrongful death and personal injury complaint against Copening, two medical doctors, and a medical association. Through discovery, appellants learned that in June 2003, the Prescription Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force sent a letter to the pharmacies that had dispensed to, and physicians who had written prescriptions for, Copening, concerning Copening’s prescription-filling activities. The letter informed the pharmacies and physicians that from May 2002 to May 2003, Copening had obtained approximately 4,500 hydrocodone pills at 13 different pharmacies. Based on the Task Force letter, appellants moved the district court and were granted leave to file a second amended complaint to add the following defendants to the action: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; Longs Drug Stores Co.; Walgreen Co.; CVS Pharmacy, Inc.; Rite-Aid; Albertson’s Inc., d/b/a Sav-on Pharmacy; and Lam’s Pharmacy, Inc.

As to the pharmacies, the second amended complaint alleged that Copening was under the influence of controlled substances when the accident occurred and that the pharmacies had filled Copening’s prescriptions after they had received a Task Force letter informing them of her prescription-drug activities. The complaint further asserted that after receiving the Task Force letter, the pharmacies continued providing Copening with the controlled substances that she used before the accident. The complaint did not allege any irregularities on the face of the prescriptions themselves. Nor did the complaint allege that the prescriptions presented by Copening to the pharmacies were filled by the pharmacies in violation of the prescriptions’ language, were fraudulent or forged, or involved dosages that, individually and if taken as directed, were potentially harmful to Copening’s health.

The case was discussed in a October 31, 2009 post on this blog.

Read the opinion in Sanchez v. Wal-Mart Stores, 125 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 60 (Nev. Dec. 24, 2008) here.