The family of a woman fatally shot by a man who was robbing a Long Island pharmacy for pain medication can proceed with its suit against the doctor who had prescribed painkillers to the shooter, a judge has ruled.
“Under certain factual circumstances there exists a duty to the general public not to supply prescriptions to maintain an addict or habitual user of controlled substances. A medical provider may owe a duty to protect the public from the actions of a drug addict and he may be found to have breached that duty if he creates or maintains the addiction through his own egregious conduct,” Supreme Court Justice William Rebolini in Suffolk County (See Profile) wrote in Malone v. County of Suffolk, 04112/2012.
In denying Dr. Stan Xuhui Li’s dismissal motion, the judge noted that the license to write painkiller prescriptions “carries with it important responsibilities.”
The judge dismissed from the case defendants Suffolk County, its former police commissioner, Richard Dormer, and Abbott Laboratories, which manufactures the painkiller Vicodin.
The suit arises from a deadly June 2011 robbery at Haven Drugs in Medford that drew significant media attention for the violence of the crime and the issue of the shooter’s addiction to painkillers.
The shooter, David Laffer, gunned down four people in the pharmacy and fled with thousands of pills. He was convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes and sentenced to life without parole.
The daughters and ex-husband of one of the victims, 33-year-old Jamie Taccetta, sued Li, Suffolk County, Abbott Laboratories and other parties.
The plaintiffs sought damages for Taccetta’s wrongful death and argued the defendants were liable for creating a public nuisance either through their actions or inactions regarding Laffer.
As for Li, the plaintiffs alleged he prescribed Laffer approximately 2,500 pills from 2009 to 2010 and that he “knew or should have known that prescribing narcotics and continuing to prescribe narcotics to a drug abuser such as David Laffer would result in disastrous consequences.”
Li, the plaintiffs argued, created a public nuisance in allowing Laffer to have access to the prescription narcotics and failing to prevent him “from re-filling his stash of prescription narcotics.”
New York City’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor has a pending criminal action against Li; seven counts of the 219-count indictment pertain to Li’s treatment of Laffer.
Li, 58, pleaded not guilty when arraigned on Dec. 6. He faces up to 15 years of incarceration on the top counts of second-degree manslaughter in connection to the overdose deaths of two patients, who died days after getting prescriptions from Li.
Responding to the civil action, Li’s attorneys argued in court papers that the case had to be dismissed because “no special relationship” existed between Taccetta and Li that would make him liable for her well-being. Moreover, Li “did not possess authority and control over his patient’s conduct which would impose a duty on him regarding the general public,” they argued.
In his decision, dated Nov. 26 but released to the parties last week, Rebolini observed that in “numerous cases” medical providers had no duty to the public to control the actions of patients and were not responsible for the failure to intervene.
Nevertheless, he said the plaintiffs were instead arguing that Li “recklessly and affirmatively contributed” to Laffer’s addiction that purportedly fueled his “murderous spree.”
Here, Rebolini said, “the duty to the community at large does not arise through an obligation to control the actions of Laffer. Rather, the duty may arise through an obligation to refrain from over-prescribing addictive drugs in an irresponsible and potentially criminal manner.”
The judge continued that “it may be found” Li breached his duty to the public and the plaintiffs through “the irresponsible dispensing of controlled substances to an addict and the reckless disregard for the consequences of that addiction.”
The plaintiffs, James Malone and his daughters Miranda and Kaitlyn, were represented by John Ray and Vesselin Mitev of John Ray & Associates.
“We believe the decision has nationwide implications for doctors who forget their Hippocratic oath and use their prescription pads to turn into drug dealers with lab coats on,” Mitev said. He added that it was likely his clients would seek to appeal Abbott Laboratories’ dismissal from the case.
Li was represented by Raymond Belair of Belair & Evans, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Assistant County Attorney Susan Flynn appeared for Suffolk County .
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler represented Abbott Laboratories.
@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.