Monday, January 17, 2022

Doctrine of In Pari Delicto Reviewed by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

In the case of Albert v. Sheeley’s Drug Store, Inc., No. 5 MAP 2021 (Pa. Dec. 22, 2021) (Maj. Op. by Wecht, J.)(Dissenting Op. by Dougherty, J.), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether claims brought against a pharmacy on behalf of a decedent who overdosed on illegally obtained prescription drugs are barred by the doctrine of in pari delicto.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the trial court in Lackawanna County correctly applied the in pari delicto doctrine and, as such, the lower court’s decision was affirmed.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff’s decedent was struggling with substance abuse issues.  The decedent had a friend who had a mother who was suffering from blood cancer. The friend’s mother had been prescribed several opioid pain medications which she filled at a particular pharmacy. Family members called the drug store and placed a restriction on who could pick up the mother’s prescriptions.

The decedent and/or his friend allegedly were allowed by the pharmacy to pick up the sick mother's medication.  The decedent then allegedly ingested some of that medication and allegedly passed away as a result.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted that the doctrine of in pari delicto is an equitable doctrine that precludes plaintiffs from recovering damages if their cause of action is based, at least partially, on their own illegal conduct. Other jurisdictions call this doctrine the wrongful conduct rule. The Latin phrase translates to English to “in equal fault.”

The rule of the doctrine is rooted in the theory that the court should not lend their aid to a Plaintiff whose cause of action stems from his or her own illegal conduct.

The trial court below in this matter entered judgment for the pharmacy concluding that the in pari delicto doctrine barred recovery given that the decedent’s death was caused, at least partially, by his own criminal conduct, i.e., possessing and consuming a controlled substance that was not prescribed to him.

After reviewing the case before it, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the lower courts had correctly applied the in pari delicto on the facts presented.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of the Majority Opinion by Justice Wecht may click this LINK.  The Dissenting Opinion by Justice Dougherty may be viewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck for bringing this case to my attention.

Source of image:  Photo by Markus Winkler on

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