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Can doctors be held liable for prescription drug addictions?

Something that can, and does happen in the aftermath of an injury-producing car accident is that you may be prescribed pain-killing medications. Some of these medications carry a significant risk of becoming habit-forming, such as OxyContin and Xanax. Recently the West Virginia Supreme Court addressed the question of whether, if you become addicted to such pain killers, your prescribing physician can be held at least partly liable. And the answer may surprise you.

The case itself arose from eight separate lawsuits having almost 30 plaintiffs from a single West Virginia county. All of the lawsuits concerned three pharmacies and four physicians as defendants, with the allegations being that these defendants prescribed large amounts of habit-forming pain medications, which in fact led to the plaintiffs becoming not only addicted but also to engaging in activities common to addicts: theft, fraud, forgery and more. The lawsuits claimed that the net effect was that these addictions, and the resultant behaviors, caused the plaintiffs to incur damages.

And by a 3-2 margin, The Supreme Court agreed with them.

While it appears that the lawsuit in question was targeted at what may have been “pill mills”, the net effect is to open a new potential cause of action for car accident and other personal injury victims who become addicted to prescription medications. Note as well that such lawsuits may be subject to West Virginia’s comparative negligence law: if the plaintiffs abuse their prescriptions, or their activities after becoming addicted cause harm to others, this may possibly be weighed against them in the final calculation of damages.

If you believe that you or a loved one has acquired a prescription drug habit as a result of negligent behavior on the part of a prescribing physician or hospital or pharmacy, consulting with a West Virginia personal injury lawyer who is familiar with the impact of this recent court decision can help you to determine whether you have a potential cause of action.

Source: MedPage Today, “You’re Suing Me for What?”, Jesse Pipes, Lewis Nelson, Maryann Mazer-Amirshahi, August 24, 2015

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