Earlier in 2012, an interesting case arose out of Las Vegas concerning the issue of liability and responsibility. Two years prior, the CEO of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Randy Kwasniewski, was found dead in his home due to a self-inflicted gun shot wound. There is no doubt that his death was a suicide. This means that technically, the deceased is the one strictly liable and responsible for his death. However, his family has recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against anofi-aventis U.S., a limited liability company based in Delaware responsible for the sleeping drug, Ambien. They have also filed a lawsuit against a therapist Mr. Kwasniewski had seen days prior to his death.
The family is trying to argue that although the deceased was taking the medication Ambien properly as prescribed by his physician, the company is responsible for his wrongful death because “they new Ambien was defective and had the propensity to cause severe injury, including death” yet seriously under-warned Kwasniewski and other patients of the dangers of taking the drug. Apparently, the CEO was unaware of the fact that taking the drug could cause suicidal tendencies. Furthermore, the therapist he was seeing is also brought into this lawsuit for her apparent failure to warn Kwasniewski of the possible mental and physical dangers of taking Ambien.
I find this case extremely interesting when thinking of what should be considered under “legal responsibility.” There is no doubt that the actual death was a result of Mr. Kwasniewski’s own actions. No one pulled the trigger nor forced him to do so. He was an adult man and obviously extremely intelligent and competent as indicated by his occupational position. So how can an outside party, who was not present in the room when his death occurred, did not give him the gun, and did not even know him personally be held responsible?
This is also an interesting situation because I believe responsibility lies within the chain of events that led to the end result. The closer a person is to the ultimate end result the more responsibility that person holds. Therefore it would seem that the defendant in this case is extremely distant in the chain of responsibility for Mr. Kwasniewski’s death.
However in situations such as this it seems that justice would not be served if no one was held responsible for this tragedy. I believe this suggests that there is a moral responsibility on the part of the liability company, however I am not completely convinced that this can be translated into a legal responsibility.
To play the part of the Devil’s Advocate, though, I can see where the need to hold the company responsible is necessary despite their distance in the chain. There should be a precedent that companies in charge of certain drugs must disclose the dangers of taking such drugs. But is it not part of the patient’s responsibility to find out what the side effects of their medication could be? It seems to me that the therapist Mr. Kwasniewski was seeing is far closer to the end result, making it arguable that she holds some responsibility for his death.
What makes this an even more challenging case is the fact that neither the company nor the therapist lied about the side effects. It is not as though Mr. Kwasneiwski asked if suicidal tendencies were a side effect of taking Ambien and both the company and therapist lied, saying that they were not. If this were the case it would seem easy to hold the two parties responsible. However, this was a failure to disclose. It is not the same as directly lying, thus it makes me wonder if the responsibility of the two parties can really be the same.
I will be interested to see how the courts rule in this case.
For further reading or coverage of the case check out: