Establishing Liability in Pharmaceutical Product Lawsuits

Wrongful death, as a result of defective pharmaceutical products, is a matter defined in District of Columbia Code as the cause of “wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person or corporation” (Sec. 16-2701). Because wrongful death is a personal injury where the victim is no longer living or available to bring a lawsuit on their own behalf, estate beneficiaries or “real parties of interest” (i.e. spouse, domestic partner, children, parents or siblings), are most often the plaintiffs in litigation cases seeking compensatory remedies in such cases. Sometimes found to be implicated with medical malpractice, pharmaceutical liability litigation in Washington, D.C. is subject to the restrictions of pure contributory negligence, unless the case coincides with gross negligence on behalf of a manufacturer.

District of Columbia Product Liability Laws

Pharmaceutical litigation generally falls under the category of product liability law. The District of Columbia’s product liability laws impose strict liability rules, but may also confer with the Doctrine of Pure Contributory Negligence (Wingfield v. People’s Drug Store, 379 A.2d 685 (D.C. 1994)). The Learned Hand Formula applied by the courts uses the “negligence calculus” to determine liability:

  1. the probability of injury
  2. seriousness, and
  3. interest sacrificed as burden.

If the likelihood of an injury is high, it is serious. The burden is on the manufacturer to provide warning due to the magnitude of the risk. A three-year statute of limitations from the date of death, injury or property damage caused by the product restricts product liability filings in the jurisdiction.

The District of Columbia’s Doctrine of Contributory Negligence protects manufacturers from “deep pockets” litigation, where a plaintiff has contributed to the negligence that caused the accident, leading to their own death or injury. For example, failure by a manufacturer to provide adequate warnings on a pharmaceutical product substantiates negligence, the “danger” determined to be the “cause in fact” basis to product liability, the tort rule element providing the legal condition to establishing the basis for “fault” in a wrongful death lawsuit. Misuse is a common defense by pharmaceutical manufacturers, arguing the victim (or a prescribing physician) knew the inherent risks, yet administered the product recklessly.

Damages in Washington, D.C. Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Damages in wrongful death litigation cases filed in Washington, D.C. are set by a jury or judge depending on the case. Criminal cases may coincide with a wrongful death claim. In civil cases, monetary amount of recovery is not limited by law, and may include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages to the time of retirement, funeral and burial expenses, and other estimated contributions the deceased would have made for the care, companionship, and support of “parties of interest” had they lived. Damages for grief, mental distress or other emotional suffering is not allowed under District of Columbia law.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

When filing a wrongful death claim in D.C., it is important to have expert legal advice. The Law Offices of Duane O. King, PC is a licensed attorney practice providing consultation and representation in the areas of product liability law and wrongful death claims.