The family of one of four people killed in a New York pharmacy holdup filed a $20 million lawsuit Thursday, alleging that a drug company that manufactures painkillers, a physician accused of improperly distributing the drugs, police officials and others were responsible for the victim's death.
Attorney John Ray filed the lawsuit on behalf of the daughters of Jaime Taccetta, a customer who was killed in the June shooting at Haven Drugs in the Long Island community of Medford.
"They wish to ensure that everybody and anybody who did anything to harm their mother should be held liable and should have to pay," Ray said at a news conference where he was joined by one of Taccetta's daughters.
Miranda Malone, 17, appeared overwhelmed by the media attention and spoke haltingly of the lawsuit, frequently stopping to whisper in Ray's ear for advice before speaking. "I think all of this could have been prevented if people did their job," she said. The young woman was apprehensive about discussing the death of her mother and at one point appeared on the verge of tears before Ray brought an end to the questions.
He said Taccetta's other daughter, Kaitlyn, 6, was too young to attend the news conference.
Taccetta and three others were killed by a gunman who walked into the pharmacy and opened fire, then stuffed a backpack full of painkillers and fled. David Laffer was arrested days later and has since pleaded guilty to murder; he is serving consecutive life-without-parole sentences. His wife, who admitted driving the getaway car, is serving 25 years in prison.
The killings raised alarm nationwide about the growing problem of prescription painkiller abuse and prompted several follow-up investigations, both by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the local district attorney's office, which has empaneled a grand jury to investigate physicians who may be improperly prescribing medication.
The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Riverhead, N.Y., accused drug maker Abbott Laboratories of failing to monitor the distribution of painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Ray said the company should have been aware that some physicians were prescribing inordinate amounts of the painkillers.
Scott Stoffel, a spokesman for Abbott Laboratories, said in a statement that Vicodin and hydrocodone with acetaminophen medications have been available for more than 30 years and have an important role in pain control. He said the company works closely with Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and other experts to develop education, monitoring and intervention programs.
"Generic forms of immediate-release Vicodin have been available since the 1980s and Abbott's Vicodin brand accounts for less than 1 percent of all prescriptions filled for hydrocodone with acetaminophen products," Stoffel said.
The Suffolk County police department and its former commissioner, Richard Dormer, were named as defendants because, Ray said, officers failed to follow through on an investigation of a theft reported by Laffer's mother prior to the killings. An officer had learned during the theft investigation that Laffer had been issued a pistol permit, and although the officer recommended that he be the subject of a follow-up investigation, no further action appears to have been taken.
Dormer, who retired at the end of last year, said when the revelations came to light in September that the police department had no legal basis to follow up on the officer's recommendation to investigate further. He noted that Laffer had no prior criminal record at the time.
A spokeswoman said the police department does not comment on pending litigation; she also had no information on how to contact Dormer.
Also named in the lawsuit is the owner of Haven Drugs. Ray said owner Vinoda Kudchadkar had been the target of three robberies prior to the June shooting, and he should have taken precautions to prevent further robberies, such as hiring a security guard to patrol the store.
A woman answering the telephone at Haven Drugs on Thursday declined to comment.
Another defendant in the lawsuit is a doctor who is already facing criminal charges of peddling painkiller prescriptions to addicts and drug dealers.
Dr. Stan Li provided 24 prescriptions filled by Laffer, Newsday has reported. Li's former lawyer, Aaron M. Wallenstein, said the doctor had refused to keep treating Laffer, his wife and others. Li made use of a database designed to combat painkiller abuse by tracking patients who seek prescriptions from multiple doctors, Wallenstein said after the doctor's arrest.
Li's attorney, Raymond W. Belair, said in a statement that his client looks forward to fighting the case and "any other baseless accusations made against him."
"You can assume that David Laffer's wife Melinda Brady was discharged as a patient by Dr. Li prior to the events in question for non-compliance with his instructions," Belair said. "You can also assume that, according to all state records available at the time of the murders, David Laffer was not engaged in suspicious behavior."
"People are barking up the wrong tree in trying to lay the blame at the door of sincere physicians acting in good faith when even NY State cannot keep current track of potential doctor shoppers," Belair said.
Ray conceded that the lawsuit was based on a unique legal theory: "Every one of these defendants, including the drug company, have created and knew they were creating a public nuisance when they dispensed these drugs to addicts like Laffer. Every abuser of drugs is a public nuisance and they should be liable, the defendants, who created and served the public nuisance."