Law Shields Pharmacists for Filling Lethal Scripts

Many people are unaware of the “learned intermediary doctrine,” which grants civil immunity to registered pharmacists in Illinois when they fill prescriptions as written, even if those prescriptions call for lethal doses of a drug.

Despite this immunity doctrine, our firm recently obtained a settlement for the family of a patient who died after taking a lethal dose of Vicodin ES (extra-strength) as prescribed. Because each capsule of Vicodin ES contains 750 mg of Tylenol, the patient died from liver failure within several days of ingesting lethal amounts of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

Confronted with the immunity doctrine, we sought out other defendants, including the surgeon who prescribed the Vicodin, and brought pressure to bear on all those who were potentially responsible for failing to insure the safety of the patient. The settling defendants provided significant compensation to the family, but the avenues for obtaining that compensation were certainly narrowed by the archaic protectionist doctrine.

This tragic story illustrates how vulnerable patients are when they rely completely upon the diligence, care and competence of their healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals; and cases involving severe injury or death from taking commonly prescribed drugs are not as rare as one might think. Just recently, the family of a Massachusetts teenager received more than $63 million in compensatory damages for permanent injuries she suffered as a result of taking a dosage of Children’s Motrin that her health care professional advised (although her case involved a rare allergic reaction that was not disclosed in warning labels).

Unfortunately, even patients who are under the care of an experienced doctor need to be their own advocates or have an advocate looking out for them, raising questions about drug dosages, as well as drug interactions, rare reactions and overall efficacy.

Patients also need and deserve a legislative vanguard that looks out for public safety, leery of protectionist statutes that sacrifice patient care at the altar of business enterprise. It is time for our legislature to consider the repeal or re-thinking of the “learned intermediary doctrine” in accord with modern risks and standards of care.

If you think that you or a loved one has been adversely affected by a drug, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (312) 477-2500 to speak with a qualified personal injury attorney who can advise you about both well-known and underpublicized drug issues while providing you with counsel regarding protection and vindication of your rights. You can also check out our Website for more information about our law firm, Cogan & Power, P.C.


Sourcing: one paragraph description by Mike Cogan

* The names were omitted from this draft of a blog-post in order to protect the firm from any claims regarding breach of confidentiality with respect to settlement, or breach of privacy with respect to discussing the case. Even the patient’s age and gender were not mentioned because it is not important to the reader or relevant to the main thrust of the story, and disclosing it would only facilitate an attempt to search court records for information about the settling defendants, etc. While court records are public, some judges and litigants take a dim view of facilitating the broadcast of information about “sensitive” details of a case.