Walgreens Not Responsible for Car Accident Resulting from Drug Mix-up, Says 5th Circuit

By Laura Temme, Esq. on September 24, 2019

The 5th Circuit recently confirmed that there are limits on liability for pharmacies in a case where a Walgreens customer who accidentally walked away with the wrong prescription caused a fatal car accident.

According to the opinion, Walgreens staff allegedly gave the man a bottle containing glyburide metformin, a diabetes medication that can cause dangerously low blood pressure in those who do not have diabetes. Even though the label carried someone else’s name and prescription, the man apparently ingested the drug.

While driving, he lost control of his vehicle, rear-ending one of the plaintiffs and crossing the center lane, fatally injuring another driver. His car then burst into flames, and he later died from his injuries. An autopsy showed detectable amounts of glyburide metformin in his system at the time of the crash.

What Duty (If Any) Does a Pharmacy Owe Third Parties?

Since this issue had never presented itself in Texas courts, the District Court made an Erie prediction on the subject of liability – an educated guess as to what the Texas Supreme Court would determine were it hearing the case. Rejecting the plaintiffs’ arguments of negligence per se, the District Court found (and the Court of Appeals agreed) that under Texas law the patient/healthcare provider relationship “originates solely with, and flows only to, the patient.” Furthermore, nothing about the doctor/patient relationship provides the type of control necessary to create such a duty to third parties.

The plaintiffs compared the pharmacy’s duties to dram shop liability, but the court found that because the Texas legislature passed the Dram Shop Act limiting liability in those cases the courts have never expanded the doctrine to other potentially harmful products.

In the end, the court found that the man failing to see someone else’s name on the prescription label, taking the medication, and causing the accident were not foreseeable consequences of Walgreens giving him the wrong bottle.

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