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NV Sup. Ct. Says Pharmacists Have Duty to Warn

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on December 01, 2011 5:55 AM

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in November that pharmacists may be liable for adverse reactions to drugs in some limited circumstances. The court said that they have the duty to warn customers of certain adverse effects when filling out prescriptions if they are aware of a customer-specific risk.

The suit, filed against Walgreen Co., alleged that the drugstore fulfilled a prescription despite a computer notation that the customer, Helen Klasch, was allergic to the medication. Klasch later passed away when her condition worsened.

The decision overturns a summary judgment ruling in favor of Walgreen Co., and the case has been sent back to the district court for additional proceedings. The court's decision stated that when the pharmacist knows of a possible adverse effect, they must either notify the prescribing doctor or the customer.

The Nevada Supreme Court's decision doesn't open up pharmacist liability in all situations. In fact, the court specifically upheld the use of the "learned intermediary" doctrine in pharmacist civil liability cases.

This doctrine shields pharmacists and drug makers from drug liability suits. Drug manufacturers are immune if they provide a "learned intermediary" - a doctor - with all the necessary information about the risks of their drugs. It's up to the doctor to then dole out advice about what drugs patients should take depending on their specific circumstances.

Pharmacists also used this doctrine to shield themselves from liability. And the Nevada Supreme Court only carves out an exception to the doctrine. Pharmacists are liable and have a duty to warn only about customer-specific risks. They still will have no duty to warn of generalized risks of prescription medication, according to the court's opinion.

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