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February 25th, 2013

Doctor Liability for Negligence in Prescribing Medicine in Pennsylvania

As prescription medication use has increased over the last decade, accidents caused by intoxication have also increased. In fact, over the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of people driving under the influence of prescription medications, or what is called “drugged driving.” (Source: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drugged-driving)

In Pennsylvania, doctors and other medical professionals may be held liable for negligence in prescribing medications when a patient causes an accident and injures another person.

Kobayaski v. Estate of Holland is a 2012 Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas case (Westmoreland County) which may have extended liability of doctors to cases involving negligence in prescribing medications. Read more about doctor liability when patients cause injury to other parties.

There the court was faced with a case in which a doctor had prescribed increased doses of narcotic drugs to a patient, who displayed lethargy while at her doctor’s appointment. The patient was found sleeping or unconscious in the examination room. In addition, the doctor gave the patient methadone before the patient left. Within minutes of leaving the doctor’s office, the patient lost consciousness when driving and struck the plaintiff who was riding a bike. The plaintiff suffered catastrophic injuries and became incapacitated as a result. His estate sued the patient-driver and her doctor.

The doctor filed a motion for summary judgment which would have effectively ended the case in his favor. The court denied the motion and ruled in favor of the injured bicyclist.

The key was foreseeability, i.e., what the doctor knew and when he knew it. The court found that the doctor had knowledge of an imminent health threat to the public based on the patient’s lethargic display in the office immediately prior to the accident. The court found that the doctor never asked the patient whether she was driving and did not instruct her not to drive. In addition, the doctor knew that the patient had previously been in two car accidents and also knew that the combination of medications he prescribed for her could impair her ability to drive. Therefore, since the threat of harm was reasonable and foreseeable, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

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