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Who gets accused when a drug harms a patient?

Pharmaceuticals are a billion-dollar U.S. industry. More importantly, medication has extended the lives and improved quality of life for millions of people.

But powerful drugs usually contain powerful side effects. Most of the time, patients are told of the possible side effects of a particular drug and make an informed decision, with the help of their doctor, whether or not to take it. But sometimes, the drug does something unexpected and causes terrible harm, possibly even death.

When that happens, who will the patient and his or her family blame? The doctor who prescribed the drug, the company that made it, or both?

Usually, the answer is the physician. The main issue in these types of cases is generally failure to warn the patient about a drug’s risks. A pharmaceutical company can be held liable if it failed to warn the doctor about side effects, or did not perform adequate testing before releasing the drug.

But the law considers the doctor to be the “learned intermediary” between the patient and the drug company. This means that, most of the time, the burden is on the doctor to warn the patient of the risks. When a patient suffers harm as the result of a drug, the doctor is usually the one sued for malpractice.

Thus, physicians need to be careful when prescribing medication, particularly ones with potentially dangerous side effects. Of course, even contentious doctors can be hit with a malpractice lawsuit. When that happens, they need legal defense to protect themselves.

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