Pharmacy Liability to Third Parties
Nevada Supreme Court Rejects Liability For Pharmacies to Third Parties Injured by Patients Under Influence of Prescription Drugs
Nevada has long been a jurisdiction that does not recognize “dram-shop liability.” As such, bartenders and drinking establishments are not responsible to innocent third persons for injury or death due to an inebriated patron’s conduct. Hamm v. Carson City Nugget, Inc., 85 Nev. 99, 450 P.2d 358 Nev. 1969. Recently, the Nevada Supreme Court had the opportunity to decide a similar issue in the area of prescription drug use: whether pharmacies can be liable for injuries caused by patients under the influence of controlled prescription drugs. In the case of Sanchez, et. al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, et. al., 125 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 60, the Nevada Supreme Court concluded they are not liable.
In that matter, Gregory Sanchez, Jr. was killed and Robert Martinez was seriously injured when they were struck by an automobile driven by Patricia Copening as they were fixing a flat tire on the side of Interstate 95. Ms. Copening was under the influence of prescription medication at the time. Mr. Martinez, the families of both men, and the estate of Mr. Sanchez brought a wrongful death suit against Ms. Copening as well as various pharmacies that had filled prescriptions for her. They claimed that prior to the accident the pharmacies were given notice by the Prescription Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force of Ms. Copening’s excessive prescription filling activities, and as such owed the victims a duty of care not to fill her prescriptions.
The Court, in a 5-2 vote, held a pharmacy has no duty of care to unidentifiable third parties, and as such is not liable for injuries causes by patients under the influence. The majority reasoned there was no special relationship between the pharmacies and Sanchez/Martinez and that the two men were not known or identifiable parties within a zone of risk, but rather were “unidentifiable members of the general public who were unknown to the pharmacies.” As such, the pharmacies’ acts of dispensing prescription drugs to Ms. Copening did not create a legal duty. In addition, the Court concluded: (1) N.R.S. 453.1545 and its requirement that Nevada administrative agencies track prescription fillings did not create a duty of care on pharmacies’ part; and (2) the doctrine of negligence per se was inapplicable because the pharmacies were not bound by statute to decline to fill Ms. Copening’s prescriptions.
By: Edgar Carranza