Illinois pharmacists who fail to warn customers of the dangers of prescription drugs like Yasmin or Yaz may escape liability under a recent decision by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This case marks a significant departure from the recent position the Southern District of Illinois has taken towards pharmacy liability for prescription drugs. Unlike similar state-court suits alleging failure to warn, the Seventh Circuit found that pharmacy liability was barred under Illinois law, provided the pharmacy does not have specific knowledge that a customer is especially susceptible to the side effects of a defective drug.
In Walton v. Bayer Corporation, Cathy Walton alleges serious permanent injuries resulting from Yasmin use. She filed suit in an Illinois state court against several out-of-state Bayer-affiliated distributors and Neimann Foods, the Illinois-based pharmacy that sold her the drug. She alleged that the defendants failed to warn her of the dangerous side effects of Yasmin, forcing her to suffer severe physical pain and mental anguish, lifelong medical treatment, and significant medical expenses.
The Bayer defendants immediately moved the case to federal court and argued that the Illinois pharmacy owner should be dismissed from the case. Walton wanted to litigate in state court because numerous Southern District of Illinois decisions have suggested that pharmacies should be liable for the prescription drugs they sell. Unfortunately, the federal court sided agreed to dismiss Neiman, allowing the case to stay in federal court.
Walton abandoned the entire case and the district court dismissed the suit. The Seventh Circuit upheld the dismissal on appeal.
The decision raised several key issues with respect to Yasmin and Yaz side effects and failure to warn prescription drug lawsuits. Most significantly, Judge Posner, writing for the majority, rejected Walton’s principal claim the pharmacy had a duty to warn her of Yasmin’s side effects. The Court looked to the “learned intermediary doctrine,” which the Illinois Supreme Court has repeatedly used to reject pharmacy liability. Under this doctrine, pharmacists are barred from liability for failing to directly warn customers of prescription drug risks, unless the pharmacist knows the customer is abnormally susceptible to a particular side effect of the drug. In that case, the pharmacy must warn the customer or the customer’s prescribing physician. However, unless the pharmacy knows of a pre-existing mental or physical condition or a potential interaction with other drugs the pharmacy is dispensing, liability will not attach. This doctrine also applies in 47 other states.
Applying the “learned intermediary doctrine” to absolve the pharmacy of liability in this case, the Court reasoned that it would be senseless to expect pharmacies to warn customers of potential prescription drug side effects outside of special known circumstances, given federal drug regulation and the extensive tort liability of prescription drug manufacturers. Therefore, the Court held that the claim against Neimann has so little merit that it was properly dismissed.
Although the Court did not grant a victory to the plaintiff in this case, our experienced defective drug attorneys recognize the possibility that similar claims will be successful. We are currently working with injured consumers harmed by prescription drugs, and realize that Walton made a critical mistake in failing to bring suit against Bayer rather than several Bayer affiliates.
Under Illinois law, manufacturers of prescription drugs like Yaz and Yasmin have a duty to warn consumers about the dangers associated with their products. In fact, Bayer currently faces hundreds of other lawsuits for failing to warn customers about dangerous Yaz and Yasmin side effects and even more litigation can be expected as innocent consumers are harmed by dangerous drug side effects.