Court Allows Case Against Pharmacy In Man's Death

May 12, 2016

A state appeals court Wednesday said a lawsuit can move forward against a compounding pharmacy in the death of an Ohio man who received a fatal dose of pain medication while on vacation in Southwest Florida.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 ruling, reversed a circuit judge's decision to dismiss allegations against Professional Compounding Pharmacists of Western Pennsylvania. The case stems from the 2012 death of Darryl Ray Sorenson, who suffered back pain because of injuries from an auto accident.

Sorenson's physician in Ohio treated the pain by administering the drug hydromorphone through a pain pump inserted into the man's spinal canal.

While on vacation in Florida, Sorenson was referred by his physician to Charlotte Pain Management Center, where a doctor wrote a prescription that significantly increased the concentration of the medication, according to Wednesday's ruling. The compounding pharmacy then provided the medication to Charlotte Pain Management Center, which administered it to Sorenson. He died the same day, the ruling said.

Sorenson's estate filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the pain-management center and other defendants, including the pharmacy. The lawsuit alleged negligence by the pharmacy for preparing medication that was unreasonable because of the dosage strength. A Charlotte County circuit judge dismissed the allegations against the pharmacy, but a majority of the appeals-court panel disagreed.

"The pharmacist (company) asserts that, as a compounding pharmacist, it was two steps removed from Mr. Sorenson because it dispensed the medication to the prescribing physician who then administered it to Mr. Sorenson,'' said the ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Morris Silberman and joined by Judge Robert Morris. "We recognize that compounding pharmacists may have no direct contact with patients. However, we are not persuaded that the lack of direct patient contact shields a compounding pharmacist from its duty to use due and proper care in filling a prescription that is intended for administration to that patient. We also note that this duty arises not from a duty to warn the patient; rather it arises from the duty to not fill a facially unreasonable prescription without appropriate inquiry."

But Judge Edward LaRose wrote a dissenting opinion that said the pharmacy did not breach a duty of care.

"Taken to its logical conclusion, the court's decision will require a compounding pharmacy, upon receipt of a prescription for a new patient, to contact the prescriber to inquire about the patient's history and course of treatment, even if the prescription appears regular on its face," LaRose wrote. "I know of no law or regulation that requires such a burdensome inquiry."