The Courts in Pennsylvania do allow the Learned Intermediary Rule to be pled in certain circumstances in products liability cases. One of the areas is in the physicians’ prescribing of drugs. The Learned Intermediary Rule in these contexts is usually invoked in cases where a drug manufacturer is being sued when someone taking the drug suffers injury due to a side effect of the medication. In those situations the pharmaceutical companies must show that they provided adequate warnings to various prescribing physicians during the relevant time period, and it is the burden of the Plaintiff to prove that the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings to the prescribing physicians.
In a recent case in Philadelphia County Blyth v. GlaxoSmithKline, a factual twist to the Court’s application of this rule came into play. The Plaintiff in this matter, Marsha Blyth, a resident of South Carolina, was taking Paxil at the time that she became pregnant with her daughter, Anna Blyth, in 1995. The evidence showed that Ms. Blyth stopped using Paxil within a matter of weeks after conception. Anna Blyth was born with three congenital heart defects which the Plaintiffs were alleging was one of the known potential side effects of Paxil.
The factual anomaly that ultimately cost the Plaintiffs any chance of recovery in this matter against GlaxosSmithKline was that the Plaintiff’s physician, Dr. Claud Hackney, died in 2001. Further, in the interim, his medical records as to the Plaintiff and her daughter had been destroyed. The defense argued successfully that the doctor’s testimony is essential because a Plaintiff suing prescription drug manufacturers must show under the Learned Intermediary Rule that a manufacturer failed to provide adequate warning to the prescribing physicians.
The Court considered the fact that the Plaintiffs would be at a complete loss of any positive facts illustrating Dr. Hackney’s anticipated actions in face of different Paxil drug labeling, and therefore could not prove that Dr. Hackney had not been provided adequate warnings by the manufacturer of the prescription he prescribed.
The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer came to the ultimate conclusion that Summary Judgment was proper, as to drug the manufacturer in this case, due to the fact that evidence that a different warning label would have changed the decision of a purpose of a person prescribing the medication is required in pharmaceutical products liability actions. This was further true in this case, since the doctor was deceased and could not testify as to his decision making process and the potential impact of warning accompanying the risk of using of using Paxil on the doctor’s decision.
Therefore, in this case, due to the unfortunate factual circumstance of the treating doctor being deceased and being unable to acquire his knowledge as to these circumstances, the Plaintiffs in this case were unable to overcome the defense of the Learned Intermediary Rule. The case is currently pending in the Pennsylvania Superior Court.