Monday, May 18, 2015

Supreme Court decision on drug-related lawsuits questioned

A split decision by the state Supreme Court on the issue of whether drug addicts can sue doctors and pharmacies is drawing a lot of attention in the state’s legal community.
The 3-2 decision issued earlier this week answers a certified question from a Mingo County case where 29 people are seeking damages from those who distributed the drugs. The High Court answer clears a path for the addicts to seek damages.
“There’s something in my fiber that says when you come to the concept to comparative fault that should not extend to those who are intentionally and deliberately engaged in criminal misconduct,” longtime attorney Harvey Peyton said Friday.
The 29 plaintiffs in the Mingo County case admitted they doctor shopped and committed other crimes before getting drugs from the clinic in question, Mountain Medical Center. The Supreme Court decision, authored by Chief Justice Margaret Workman, said let a jury decide on the alleged bad acts.
“Without question, our citizenry is best equipped to weigh and speak to our society’s tolerance for the panoply of wrongful conduct presented herein on all sides,” Workman wrote.
Peyton said that argument sounds good but to most law-abiding state residents it doesn’t make sense. He said it could hurt other cases moving through the court system.
“If you decrease the public’s confidence in the system of justice then that, like a rising tide floats all boats, a pulled plug lowers the water for everybody,” Peyton said.
He added it’s hard to conceive any criminal drug user would ever get damages from a West Virginia jury against doctors and pharmacies where some of the drugs came from but the cases could delay other cases in the system.
“The problem is the system has to bear the burden of milling these cases through,” Peyton said.
Chief Justice Workman along with Justices Robin Davis and Brent Benjamin made up the majority. Justices Menis Ketchum and Allen Loughry both wrote dissenting opinions criticizing the majority.
Peyton said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Republican-controlled state legislature deals with the issue in next year’s regular session. He said one of the judicial reform bills this year included a provision that prohibited convicted felons from recovering damages in a civil lawsuits.