An End to Preemptively Limiting the Scope of a Manufacturer’s Duty: Why the Arizona Court of Appeals Was Right in Striking Down the Learned Intermediary Doctrine

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Matt O’Connor

On January 29, 2015, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected one of the most contentious tort doctrines in modern U.S. history. Amanda Watts began taking the drug Solodyn for acne treatment when she was a minor, as prescribed by her physician. After long-term use of Solodyn, she developed drug-induced hepatitis and drug-induced lupus, and now “she may suffer from lupus for the rest of her life.” She brought suit against the drug manufacturer, Medicis, for consumer fraud, product liability, and punitive damages. Although Amanda suffered obvious side effects as a result of taking Solodyn, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the learned intermediary doctrine (“the doctrine”).

This tort liability doctrine can be traced back to 1925. It provides that “a manufacturer is not liable for failing to warn consumers of a product’s potential risk so long as it provides a proper warning to the specialized class of people who are authorized to sell, install, or provide the product.” Thus, the trial court held that under the doctrine, Watts’s physician was an intervening party in prescribing the medication, and thus her claims failed.

The Arizona Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court of appeals’ decision held that Arizona’s Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (“the UCATA”) superseded the doctrine because the doctrine “preemptively limit[ed] the scope of a manufacturer’s duty.” The Arizona Supreme Court vacated the decision by the court of appeals, holding that the doctrine generally applied to drug manufacturers and was not displaced by the UCATA. This Note will argue that the decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals was correct and that this view should be adopted throughout the country. Pharmaceutical manufacturers should not be able to escape liability by way of an outdated doctrine.

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