Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Learned Intermediary Doctrine Definition:

A doctrine of American personal injury law which places upon a prescribing physician the primary responsibility to warn patients of the hazards of prescribed pharmaceutical products.

In Robinson, Justice Murphy adopted these words:

"[T]he learned intermediary doctrine ... provides generally that, where prescription drugs are concerned, the manufacturer's duty to warn is limited to an obligation to advise the prescribing physician of any potential dangers that may result from the drug's use.

"This special standard for prescription drugs is an exception to the . . . general rule that one who markets goods must warn foreseeable ultimate users of dangers inherent in his products.

old quack remedy poster"Prescription drugs are likely to be complex medicines, esoteric in formula and varied in effect. As a medical expert, the prescribing physician can take into account the propensities of the drug as well as the susceptibilities of his patient. His is the task of weighing the benefits of any medication against its potential dangers. The choice he makes is an informed one, and individualized medical judgment bottomed on a knowledge of both patient and palliative.

"Pharmaceutical companies then, who must warn ultimate purchasers of dangers inherent in patent drugs sold over the counter, in selling prescription drugs are required to warn only the prescribing physician, who hats as a learned intermediary between manufacturer and consumer.

"In sum, the doctor, functioning as a learned intermediary between the prescription drug manufacturer and the patient, decides which available drug best fits the patient's needs and chooses which facts from the various warnings should be conveyed to the patient, and the extent of disclosure is a matter of medical judgment. . . . [T]here is no duty on the part of manufacturers of prescription drugs to directly warn patients.

"[U]nder Illinois law, the learned intermediary doctrine is fundamentally a device for shifting liability for harm caused by a product, such as a prescription drug, onto doctors and away from others in the product's chain of distribution."


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