Watts v. Medicis Pharm. Corp. – 1/21/2016

February 8, 2016

Arizona Supreme Court holds that, under the learned intermediary doctrine, a pharmaceutical manufacturer can satisfy its duty to warn by providing appropriate warnings to a prescribing physician; that the doctrine does not conflict with the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act; and that the Consumer Fraud Act does not require a direct merchant-to-consumer transaction to support a patient’s statutory claim against a drug manufacturer.

A claim of strict products liability may be based on “informational defects” that render a product defective and unreasonably dangerous.  To establish such a claim, a plaintiff must prove that the manufacturer had a duty to warn of the product’s dangerous propensities and that the manufacturer failed to do so, rendering the product defective.  The Learned Intermediary Doctrine (“LID”), however, permits certain manufacturers to satisfy this duty by providing warnings to an intermediary, who then assumes the duty to pass the warnings to the consumer. Though the Court of Appeals has applied the LID to pharmaceuticals companies, the Supreme Court had not yet embraced it.

Plaintiff, a user of a prescription drug produced by Defendant, developed medical problems as a result of using the drug.  Relying on a strict products liability claim, she sued the Defendant, alleging that it had failed to warn her of the danger.  The Supreme Court held that the LID permitted a pharmaceutical manufacturer to satisfy its duty to warn by providing warnings to a learned intermediary, adopting the doctrine as stated in Restatement (Third) of Torts § 6(d).

In so holding, the Court rejected the argument that the LID is incompatible with the Uniform Contributions Among Tortfeasors Act (“UCATA”).  The UCATA requires that damages are apportioned among tortfeasors based on each tortfeasor’s degree of fault.  The Court of Appeals in this case had held that the LID precludes a complete assessment of comparative fault among tortfeasors by preemptively limiting the scope of a manufacturer’s duty.  The Supreme Court disagreed, noting that UCATA allocates liability among several tortfeasors who have been found at fault, while the LID absolved manufacturers who had satisfied their duty to warn of fault, precluding any allocation of liability.

Finally, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals holding that prescription drugs are merchandise under the Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) and that Plaintiff had a colorable claim under the CFA. The Court rejected an argument by the defendant manufacturer that the CFA required a direct merchant-to-consumer transaction to support such a claim.

Justice Pelander delivered the unanimous opinion.