Recent developments regarding pharmacist liability has come to the forefront as sometimes mistakes occur, and in certain instances these mistakes can result in very severe harm or even death.
In some situations, this may be due to an error by the doctor, nurse practitioner, or the physician’s assistant who wrote the prescription. But in other instances, it could be due to an error at the pharmacy. If that’s the case, and it turns out the error was a result of pharmacy employees being negligent (in other words, exercising less care than a reasonably competent pharmacist in the same situation would have shown), you may be able to hold the pharmacy accountable.
This type of pharmacy liability can arise in a variety of contexts. In the latter format, the pharmacist would receive legal assistance through the insurance company, but the attorney works for their employer, not the pharmacist – who might be discharged as a result of the suit, but their actions would be covered under their employer’s insurance policy. If a patient wants to file a medical malpractice against a pharmacist with a pharmacy employer, the patient’s attorney would probably advise filing suit against the pharmacy employer. The pharmacy employer directly has the duty to control the activities of its pharmacists. This is also called Respondeat Superior, meaning that the employer has strict liability and responsibility for the acts of its subordinates. The pharmacist and other staff may be named in a lawsuit, but the responsibility would fall upon the pharmacy owner or employer.
When someone goes to a pharmacy to get a prescription filled, it is to be expected that it is to be filled correctly – the proper medication at the proper dosage with the proper instructions. However, in a recent case in North Carolina, 74-year-old Bertha Small unfortunately died as a result of a pill mix-up. Bertha Small typically received her prescriptions from a mail-order pharmacy. In 2013, she received six medications in a package that looked just like the ones that always arrived for her. But she had received prescriptions meant for a patient in California. Each bottle had the name of the person in California, the name of that person’s doctor and the name of the medication. But Small, who could barely read due to bad eyesight, did not read the prescription labels. She took some of the pills, then suffered hallucinations and confusion and broke her leg in a fall. She died several months later. Her son filed suit against the company that filled and shipped the medication and the company that paid it to do so.
A federal judge threw out the case, finding that Small was “contributorily negligent” – meaning that Small’s own carelessness outweighed that of the company involved. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, pointing out that the issue of Small’s contributory negligence should have been left for a jury to decide. The family will now have that opportunity.
In South Carolina, recent case showed that pharmacies may be considered responsible for harm that results if they continue to refill prescriptions under suspicious circumstances. In that case, a 62-year-old woman died of an irregular heartbeat and enlarged heart due to her frequent use of Bontril, a weight-loss drug that acts as an appetite suppressant by increasing the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term use of the drug is known to cause cardiovascular problems. Despite these known risks, a retail pharmacy apparently filled the woman’s prescription more than 75 times over a nine-year period, when she shouldn’t have been taking it for more than a few months.
The woman’s family sought to hold the pharmacy responsible, arguing that the pharmacists should have recognized that she was overusing the drug and either called her doctor who was prescribing it, or refused to fill it. The case never made it to a jury. The pharmacy settled out of court for a significant financial sum, indicating the family might have prevailed in court had it gone that far.
At the Floyd Law Firm, we stand ready to assist you with the challenges of reporting a claim of medical malpractice or pharmaceutical negligence. Any harm done to oneself or a loved one is a most difficult situation for the victim and for their family and friends. It is a time of sadness, frustration, and even anger.
If you, or someone you care about, has been injured or died due to medication prescribed erroneously by a medical provider or improperly filled by a pharmacy – contact us to talk to an attorney with experience regarding medical malpractice, tort law, personal injury, or wrongful death cases. Devoted to helping the families of victims and those who have suffered serious personal injury, we will take the time to get to know you and your family while guiding you through the legal process.