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Arizona Supreme Court Adopts Learned Intermediary Doctrine

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The Arizona Supreme Court has issued an opinion adopting the learned intermediary doctrine in Arizona. The Supreme Court rejected the Arizona Court of Appeals’ earlier decision holding that the learned intermediary doctrine was incompatible with the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (“UCATA”). Although the Arizona Supreme Court specifically held that the doctrine applies to pharmaceutical manufacturers, the reasoning behind the decision would likely apply to medical device manufacturers as well.

In its decision in Watts v. Medicis, the Court adopted the Third Restatement’s version of the doctrine, which states as follows:

A prescription drug or medical device is not reasonably safe due to inadequate instructions or warnings if reasonable instructions or warnings regarding foreseeable risks of harm are not provided to:

(1) prescribing and other health-care providers who are in a position to reduce the risks of harm in accordance with the instructions or warnings; or

(2) the patient when the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that health-care providers will not be in a position to reduce the risks of harm in accordance with the instructions or warnings.

Third Restatement § 6(d).

The Watts Court stated “In our view, the Third Restatement properly states the LID [learned intermediary doctrine], and therefore we adopt § 6(d) as our expression of it.” The Court also repeated a statement from a 1990 case that “absent Arizona law to the contrary, this court will usually apply the law of the Restatement.”

In so holding, the Court rejected the argument that the learned intermediary doctrine “creates a blanket immunity for pharmaceutical manufacturers,” because the manufacturer who fails to give adequate warnings to a physician (the learned intermediary) can still be liable. Additionally, the Court explicitly rejected the appellate court’s finding that the learned intermediary doctrine is incompatible with the UCATA, finding the learned intermediary doctrine to be about “duty,” while the UCATA requires apportionment of damages based on degrees of fault. Under the learned intermediary doctrine, a manufacturer has satisfied its duty by warning the learned intermediary; thus, it cannot be found at fault. As the Court found, “the LID [learned intermediary doctrine] and UCATA address two distinct subjects, they are not mutually exclusive.”

Finally, the Court rejected Watts’ argument that the learned intermediary doctrine violates the anti-abrogation clause in Arizona’s constitution, because (1) it is a common law doctrine, not a statutory limitation; and (2) it does not abrogate a right to recover damages. Instead, it merely provides a means for the manufacturer to fulfill its duty to warn the end user by warning the learned intermediary.

Arizona joins approximately 36 other states that have adopted the learned intermediary doctrine.