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September 23. 2015

Arizona Supreme Court Will Review Whether Learned Intermediary Doctrine Applies In Arizona

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In 2015, the Arizona Court of Appeals in Watts v. Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp., 342 P.3d 847 (Ariz. App. 2015) invalidated the learned intermediary in Arizona. On September 22,  2015, however, the Arizona Supreme Court granted Defendant Medicis's Petition for Review and will consider the viability of the learned intermediary doctrine in Arizona. The intermediate appellate court determined that the learned intermediary doctrine conflicts with Arizona's Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA).  UCATA abolished joint and several liability between co-defendants in most instances. [1] Under UCATA, each defendant in a product liability case is individually responsible for its own portion of fault in causing the plaintiff's injury, and is not liable for the actions of others.

The court concluded that  the "learned intermediary doctrine conflicts with both UCATA and the holding of Premier Manufactured Systems that each defendant in a tort case is liable for his or her own respective share of fault, no more and no less." [2] This conclusion, it found, was supported by the realities of modern direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceuticals: "While it is true that a patient must first receive a prescription from a 'learned intermediary' in order to obtain prescription drugs, a physician no longer is necessarily the consumer's sole source of information about the effects, benefits and risks of the medications he or she takes." [3] Thus, when the manufacturer of a product furnishes false or misleading information to the consumer, that manufacturer should not be shielded from liability simply because it provided adequate warnings to a learned third party (the physician). After jettisoning the learned intermediary doctrine, the court held that Ms. Watts raised a fact issue regarding the adequacy of warnings to her about the risks of the medication, and whether the alleged inadequacy contributed to her injuries.[4] 

Now the Arizona Supreme Court is poised to decide this issue of critical importance to pharmaceutical manufacturers doing business in the state. We are hopeful that the court will bring Arizona back in line with the vast majority of states which embrace the learned intermediary doctrine.    

1 State Farm Ins. Co. v. Premier Manufactured Sys., Inc. 217 Ariz. 222, 225 (2007).
2 Watts v. Medicis, supra at 855.