West Virginia law gives a person injured by another person or entity’s negligence the right to sue those responsible for the injuries. But what happens when the person suing also shares some of the blame? The state Supreme Court recently considered that question in a case brought by a group of people that admitted breaking the law to get their hands on prescription drugs, and sued the doctors and pharmacies that they said helped them become addicted to the controlled substances.
The case involved lawsuits by nearly 30 people against a handful of drug stores and physicians, alleging that the doctors negligently prescribed them certain drugs and that the pharmacies negligently dispensed those drugs, causing the plaintiffs to become hooked on the substances. Each person had been a patient at the Mountain Medical Center, where they were supposedly seeking treatment for car and workplace accidents and were prescribed drugs like Lortab, OxyContin and Xanax. The MMC was later raided by the FBI for violating federal and state law on the prescription of medication. Only one of the pharmacies was subject to criminal penalties related to the raid.
Most of the plaintiffs – if not all – admitted that they had been abusing prescription drugs before they went to MMC, according to the Court. Many of them also said they used fraud or misrepresentation to obtain the drugs from MMC, that they obtained drugs from more than one doctor at the same time and that they sold some of the drugs, all of which are illegal actions. Still, the plaintiffs argued that the pharmacies acted in concert with MMC – which they called a well-known “pill mill” – to get them hooked on the prescription medication. That included filling the prescriptions for excessive time periods and filling prescriptions for separate “synergistic” controlled substances that enhanced the effect of the other drugs.
A circuit court hearing the case declined the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, in which the doctors and pharmacies argued that the individuals should be barred from pursuing their claims because their own criminal conduct contributed to the injuries they allegedly suffered. It asked the Supreme Court to take up the question, however.
The state’s high court concluded that the plaintiffs could move forward with the suit, but explained that their recovery may be limited under the state’s comparative negligence system. West Virginia law allows an injured person to sue for negligence unless the person’s negligence is equal to or exceeds the negligence of the person being sued. “We find that in cases where a plaintiff has engaged in allegedly immoral or criminal acts, the jury must consider the nature of those actions, the cause of those actions, and the extent to which such acts contributed to their injuries, for purposes of assessment of comparative fault,” the Court said.
If you or a loved one has been injured an accident, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
Related blog posts: