A Physician May Get Hit With Punitive Damages When Improperly Prescribing Opioids In Virginia

Last summer in my article— State of Oklahoma v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al.— Is this a Tipping Point for a Wave of Larger Verdict Against Opioid Prescribers, Manufacturers, Distributors and Retailers?— I addressed likely future lawsuits stemming from the ongoing opioid crisis in this country.

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Virginia in a unanimous decision held that a trial court had erred when not permitting a jury to determine if punitive damages should be awarded against a doctor whose patient overdosed on prescribed opioids. The case is Curtis v. Highfill, Record No. 190117 (April 9, 2020). The Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for a determination if punitive damages should be awarded. In Virginia, punitive damages are capped at $350,000. This decision is the first instance that the Supreme Court of Virginia has considered the issue of punitive damages against a physician.

The physician in Curtis v. Highfill prescribed more than 7,000 Percocet pills to his patient during treatment that lasted less than four years. The Court noted that the physician was aware that the patient had a history of bi-polar disorder and alcohol use. The Supreme Court also noted that the physician never examined the patient in the last 14 months of her life and never attempted nonnarcotic medications. The trial court had awarded compensatory damages of $100,000 in Curtis v. Highfill, but sustained the motion to strike the claim for punitive damages.

This Opinion helps define the threshold where a physician will be subject to an award of punitive damages.

If you have questions about this case or need assistance with a claim against a physician for opioid abuse, contact the lawyers at Ford Richardson.

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