Can I Sue My High Blood Pressure Medication?
Yes, you can sue the manufacturer of your high blood pressure medication if you can prove it was defective and it caused you harm. You may also have a claim if you are hurt because the company failed to live up to promises it made about the drug. Finally, if you can show that it failed to use reasonable care when it made or sold the drug, you can also sue the drug maker.
Cases against drug manufacturers are called product liability cases. This type of case involves a lot of science and medicine and can be really complicated (even for many lawyers). If you have been injured by a blood pressure drug and are thinking about suing the drug maker, you may want to consult with an experienced product liability attorney.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common medical condition that affects the body's arteries. If you have high blood pressure, the pressure on your arteries is too high, which causes your heart to have to work harder. Most people don't have any symptoms, but when the blood pressure gets too high, they might experience headaches, shortness of breath, and nosebleeds. Untreated, high blood pressure can cause kidney failure, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, strokes, and other health complications.
Healthy habits, such as eating well (especially foods containing potassium), exercising regularly, limiting alcohol, and not smoking, can help prevent and treat high blood pressure. Even after adopting healthy habits, some people still need help to control their blood pressure. Physicians may then prescribe blood pressure medications to treat the condition.
Drugs That Treat High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure meds can work in different ways:
- Causing your body to get rid of water (diuretics)
- Making your heart pump with less force (beta-blockers)
- Causing your blood vessels to relax (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, or ACE inhibitors)
- Preventing blood vessels from tightening (angiotensin II receptor blockers, or ARBs)
Your physician can prescribe a medication that may work best for you, depending on your health, lifestyle, and symptoms. If one drug doesn't work well for you, your physician has a lot of other options, including:
- Chlorothiazide (a diuretic sold under the brand name Diuril
- Metoprolol tartrate (a beta-blocker sold under the name Lopressor)
- Lisinopril (an ACE inhibitor sold under the brand names Prinivil and Zestril)
- Enalapril (an ACE inhibitor sold under the brand name Vasotec)
- Ramipril (an ACE inhibitor sold under the brand name Altace)
- Perindopril (an ACE inhibitor sold under the brand name Aceon)
- Valsartan (an ARB sold under the brand name Diovan)
All Drugs Carry Risks
Every drug carries risks. Although the risks associated with blood pressure medications are generally low, they are still significant. Some common side effects are relatively mild:
- Nausea or vomiting
- A dry, hacking cough
- Feeling tired or having a lack of energy
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
But serious problems, some life-threatening, have been associated with certain blood pressure medications, including:
- Increased risk of cancer
- Higher risk of liver damage and liver failure
- Higher incidence of kidney disease
- Gastrointestinal problems
If you believe you may have suffered complications from using a blood pressure medication, your first step is to get in touch with your doctor immediately. They can give you medical advice about your condition and your options.
Have You Been Injured By A Bad Drug? A Hypothetical
If you suffer serious complications, you may want to consult with a personal injury lawyer. Suppose you have high blood pressure. You go to your health care professional, and they prescribe a drug we'll call Benisipril. They describe the drug and its potential side effects. You pick up the medication at the pharmacy, take it, and, at least for a week or so, everything seems to be fine.
Then one morning you wake up and look in the mirror. You have developed a dark red rash all across your face and upper body. You contact your doctor immediately, who tells you to stop taking the drug and prescribes a diuretic instead. It takes weeks for the rash to go away, and even then, you have substantial scarring. Your dermatologist tells you that it is unlikely the scars will ever go away.
This news depresses you, forcing you to take a few days off from work. While binging episodes of Judge Judy, you happen to catch a commercial for a New York law firm that says that certain lots of Benisipril, a dangerous drug, were being recalled because they contained an unsafe level of a known allergen and were responsible for numerous adverse reactions. They say to contact the law firm if you want to be part of a class action lawsuit.
That's when you decide to do a little research on FindLaw.com.
Product Liability Claims Against Drug Manufacturers
You discover that most injury cases involving product liability claims boil down to three overlapping legal theories. Each theory provides a separate basis for recovery, but you cannot recover more than once for the same injuries.
The first theory is strict liability. What's great about strict liability is that you don't have to prove that anyone was at fault for your injuries. You just need to show that the blood pressure medication was defective in some way. A drug can be defective in three different ways:
- Design: the drug is designed in a way that it creates an unreasonable risk of harm
- Manufacturing: the drug was designed okay, but something went wrong in the manufacturing process that created an unreasonable risk of harm
- Warning: the product labeling should have and failed to warn you of the harm you suffered
In your case, all three of these might apply. If Benisipril contained an allergen that wasn't necessary to make it reduce your blood pressure, it may have been defectively designed. If it wasn't supposed to contain the allergen but it made its way into certain lots (including the medication you used), it may have been defectively manufactured. If the drug maker knew it could cause a rash but failed to include this risk in Benisipril's packaging, or failed to inform the prescribing physician of the risk, then it may be liable for failure to warn. You think you can show it was a defective drug.
So how would you prove this? First, you would need an expert who can talk about how Benisipril should have been designed. You would also need to know whether the batch you used was subject to the drug recall. Finally, you would need to review the labeling that came with the blood pressure medication when you bought it to see if it warned of scarring as an adverse event. An experienced product liability lawyer could help you pull together this evidence.
Breach of Warranty
The second theory is breach of warranty. A warranty is a representation from a product manufacturer, such as a prescription drug maker, that the product meets certain identifiable standards and will perform in a certain way. If the product fails to meet those standards or doesn't work as promised, you may be able to sue for breach of warranty if the product harms you.
Drug makers make warranties in two different ways. They may make express warranties in their package labeling and in their advertising (that's why drug commercials are so long and contain all of those disclaimers — the drug manufacturer is trying to limit its warranties). The law may also imply warranties, including that Benisipril will reduce blood pressure and is made according to standards approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
You don't remember seeing any commercials about Benisipril (until you saw the lawyer's commercial announcing the recall) or any other advertising, but you happened to keep the packaging that came with your medicine. You check and nowhere in the fine print is there any warning about the risk of rashes as an adverse event, let alone the possibility of permanent scarring. This rightly makes you think you may be able to sue the drug maker for breach of warranty.
The third product liability theory is negligence. Negligence is generally harder to prove than strict liability or breach of warranty because you have to show that the manufacturer failed to use reasonable care in the making and selling of the product, meaning that someone was at fault.
Proving that someone at the drug maker is at fault can take a lot of work. It typically involves digging through company records, which can be expensive and time-consuming. But product liability lawyers do this all the time, and there are all sorts of ways a drug company can be negligent. For example, after looking through the company's records — you'd have to file a lawsuit first to get them — your lawyer might conclude that the drug company was negligent by including too much of the allergen and in failing to warn of the risk of a rash that could lead to permanent scarring.
What Could You Get Out of a Lawsuit?
As you are doing your FindLaw research, you learn that if you won your product liability suit, you would be able to recover damages. This term refers to money that you would get to compensate you for any losses that you suffered as a result of your injuries. In your case, you might be able to recover for pain and suffering associated with the permanent scarring, any medical bills you had to pay for diagnosis and treatment, and lost wages for the time you were off work due to the depression brought on by the condition.
In a rare case, depending on the evidence, you may be able to recover a special category of damages called “punitive damages." Punitive damages are not intended to compensate you for your loss. Rather, punitive damages are intended to punish someone for extreme and outrageous behavior and to deter others from doing the same in the future. For example, perhaps the drug company knew the medication could cause permanent scarring but hid that fact from the FDA when it sought to have the drug approved. Some courts might find that outrageous enough to justify an award of punitive damages.
An Experienced Product Liability Lawyer Could Help
Armed with the knowledge you gained from FindLaw you rightly recognize that cases against drug manufacturers are complicated and take a whole lot of work. Plus, the drug makers have lawyers on board who make their living defending against product liability cases. You don't want to take on this fight on your own.
If you believe you experienced serious side effects from your blood pressure medication, you may want to contact an experienced product liability lawyer. A lawyer could give you legal advice within an attorney-client relationship, help you better understand the ins and outs of your potential claim, give you a case evaluation, and guide you through the legal process if you decide that you want to go the lawsuit route.