Pharmacies and doctors who negligently prescribed pain medication can be sued for enabling people’s addictions, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled.
The ruling involved 29 people who were patients of Mingo County’s Mountain Medical Center. Most sought treatment for job-related injuries or injuries stemming from car accidents. They alleged they were prescribed controlled substances and became addicted because of criminal abuse of prescriptions.
According to court documents, the FBI raided and shut down the Mountain Medical Center in Williamson in 2010 and found evidence of improperly prescribed controlled substances.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman said a plaintiff’s wrongful or immoral conduct does not prohibit them from seeking damages as the result of the actions of others. The court wrote that a jury can decide the extent to which the actions of a person engaged in criminal activity contributed to an alleged injury.
“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.
The majority noted that most, if not all, of the plaintiffs admitted their abuse of controlled substances occurred before they sought help at Mountain Medical Center.
Justices Allen Loughry and Menis Ketchum wrote separate dissenting opinions in the 3-2 decision May 13.
“There are no even remotely innocent victims here,” Loughry wrote.
The decision “requires hardworking West Virginians to immerse themselves in the sordid details of the parties’ enterprise in an attempt to determine who is the least culpable – a drug addict or his dealer.”
Ketchum noted a “wrongful conduct” rule has been adopted in several other states and urged West Virginia to do the same “to prevent criminals from making a mockery of our judicial system by attempting to profit from their criminal activity.”
The plaintiffs had filed eight separate lawsuits against Tug Valley Pharmacy, Strosnider Drug Store, B&K Pharmacies, the Mountain Medical Center and four of its physicians.
One of the physicians, Dr. Katherine Hoover, was once West Virginia’s top prescriber of pain medications.
After the FBI raid, Hoover was accused of recklessly and illegally issuing hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for pain medications from the clinic. She never faced criminal charges and now lives in the Bahamas.
In 2013, a federal appeals court upheld the forfeiture of $88,000 imposed on Hoover by a federal judge in Charleston who cited an FBI analysis that traced the bank account’s balance to clinic proceeds.
Clinic physicians Dr. William Ryckman and Diane Shafer and office manager Myra Miller each were sentenced to six months in federal prison for their guilty pleas to conspiring to misuse a Drug Enforcement Administration registration number.
The clinic now belongs to the West Virginia State Police, along with more than $340,000 in cash proceeds forfeited by Miller.
According to a federal report released last year, doctors in West Virginia wrote the third-highest number of prescriptions behind Alabama and Tennessee.