As most legal laymen have probably noticed, legal theories don’t always provide the most sensible answers. Many legal theories are convoluted, complex, and don’t necessarily make the most practical sense. This month, however, we look at a case where the legal doctrine that was applied makes a lot of sense. The ultimate question that the court had to decide was whether claims brought against a pharmacy on behalf of a decedent who overdosed on illegally obtained prescription drugs can stand.

Facts of the Case

Mr A was a 21-year-old university student who had a problem with recreational drugs.  His childhood friend, Mr Z, 20, also was struggling with substance abuse problems. The friends often used opioids together, and drugs were the topic of much discussion between the two.

Mr Z’s mother suffered from multiple myeloma and was prescribed several opiate pain medications which she filled at a small, local, independent pharmacy. Mrs Z was aware that her son had a substance abuse problem, so she instructed the pharmacy not to allow her son to pick up her prescriptions.

A few months later, while Mrs Z was hospitalized, Mr Z called the pharmacy pretending to be his mother and asked about refilling his mother’s Oxycontin prescription. The pharmacy informed him that the Oxycontin was not available for refill yet but that there was a prescription for fentanyl patches ready to be picked up. Mr Z, pretending to be his mother, said that Mr Z would come to pick up the medication.

Mr Z then texted his friend, Mr A asking him for a ride to the pharmacy. When the two young men arrived at the pharmacy, Mr Z was able to successfully pick up the medication despite the directions to the contrary. The pharmacy receipt even noted “do not give to son.”

On the drive home Mr Z opened one of the fentanyl patches and ingested some of the drug. Once they arrived at Mr Z’s home, Mr A also consumed fentanyl from one of the patches, then fell asleep on the couch. Hours later, Mr Z tried to wake his friend, but Mr A was unresponsive. Mr A was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Mr Z was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and multiple drug offenses in connection with Mr A’s overdose.

Mr A’s father filed a negligence suit against the pharmacy. The complaint alleged that the pharmacy negligently allowed Mr Z to pick up his mother’s prescription which proximately caused Mr A’s death. The pharmacy sought summary judgment, arguing that the father’s lawsuit was barred by the “wrongful conduct” rule, otherwise known as the in pari delicto doctrine.