Citing a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision reaffirming a long-standing bar on strict liability claims for prescription drugs under the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A cmt. k (1965), a federal court has granted in part the summary judgment motion filed by a drug maker in litigation seeking to hold it liable for injury allegedly caused by the use of a prescription medication that the company designed, manufactured and marketed to manage metastatic bone cancer. Rowland v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., Nos. 12-1474, -1476, -1715 (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Pa., decided July 28, 2014). The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims for breach of express warranty and implied warranty, finding “all non-negligence based claims asserted against a manufacturer of prescription drugs” barred under a broad interpretation of state-law precedent.
At issue were the claims of three plaintiffs who were part of multidistrict litigation (MDL) pre-trial proceedings in the Middle District of Tennessee. They alleged strict liability, negligence and breach of warranty against the pharmaceutical company, claiming that its drug caused them or their spouse to develop osteonecrosis of the jaw. In addition to its strict-liability ruling, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that Pennsylvania’s learned intermediary doctrine, which considers whether a warning that was given to the prescribing physician was proper and adequate thus discharging the company’s duty to the consumer, also encompasses other treating professionals such as dentists and oral surgeons. While the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability may extend the learned intermediary doctrine to other health-care providers, the court noted confusion as to whether the state’s high court has adopted Sections 1 and 2 of the Third Restatement. The court determined on the basis of existing case law that the state would not extend a manufacturer’s duty to warn beyond the prescribing physician. The court further determined that it was bound by the MDL court’s ruling that the adequacy of the drug’s warnings was a question of fact for the jury to consider.