A New York judge refused to rule out that a physician could be liable in a wrongful death action for overprescribing pain medication to a drug addict who then engages in criminal conduct that injures a third party.
In a November 26 decision, New York Supreme Court Judge William B. Rebolini denied physician Dr. Stan Xuhui Li’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against him by the family of one of four shooting victims killed during a June 2011 robbery of a Medford, NY pharmacy.
David Laffer, who plaintiffs said Li prescribed thousands of prescription narcotics, was convicted of the crimes and is serving four consecutive life sentences. According to plaintiffs, Li recklessly helped to create the danger Laffer posed by overprescribing him pain medication.
While generally no duty exists to control the conduct of a third party, Rebolini found in certain circumstances “[a] medical provider may owe a duty to protect the public from the actions of a drug addict and he may be found to have breached that duty if he creates or maintains the addiction through his own egregious conduct.”
Rebolini said plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed with discovery as to the level of Li’s involvement, if any, in Laffer’s addiction and on whether Li knew, or had reason to know, Laffer presented a risk of harm to himself or others.
Rebolini did dismiss, however, plaintiffs’ claims against Abbott Laboratories, which makes Vicodin, and the Suffolk County Policy Department.
Plaintiffs alleged Abbott “had a duty to the general public not to manufacture, sell, distribute, and advertise a highly addictive prescription narcotic that has a high potential for dependence.” Plaintiffs also contended Abbott had a duty to ensure physicians and pharmacies do not prescribe or overprescribe its pain medications to drug addicts.
But Rebolini disagreed, finding “New York does not impose a duty upon a manufacturer to refrain from the lawful distribution of a non-defective product, nor will the Courts of this state hold a manufacturer liable for the criminal conduct of a third party over which it has no control.”
The court also dismissed the complaint as to the Suffolk County Policy Department, holding they owed plaintiffs no special duty of care based on their prior investigation of Laffer before the shooting occurred.
Malone v. County of Suffolk, No. 04112/2012 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nov. 26, 2012).