Typically when we think of medical malpractice we think of negligent doctors. We read about doctors who misdiagnose patients, surgeons who leave medical instruments in patients, and anesthesiologists who used a medication that was counter indicative based on the patient’s medical history. However, other medical professionals such as pharmacists also make mistakes, and, sadly, the result is sometimes devastating. Like physicians and other healthcare professionals, pharmacists can be held legally liable to patients for these mistakes if as a result the patient is harmed and suffers damages.
The basis of any negligence claim is that there existed a duty that was breached, causing harm and compensable damages. In the case of the pharmacist-patient relationship the pharmacist has a legal responsibility to the patient to provide the medication prescribed by the physician and to disclose to patients pertinent information about taking the medication. If the pharmacist fails to do so, the pharmacist breached his or her legal duty. Should the patient become sick or die because of the pharmacist’s mistake, then there is causal relation between the pharmacist’s breach and the patient’s illness or death. If as a result the patient suffers compensable harm such as medical bills, lost earnings, and pain and suffering then the pharmacist may be liable for damages.
Pharmacists can breach their duty of care in a number of different ways. For example, a pharmacist may accidently give the patient the incorrect medication by either using the wrong drug when filling a prescription or by putting the wrong name on the prescription bottle. The patient could wind up with the improper medication if the pharmacist makes an error in preparation by incorrectly compounding or improperly reconstituting the medication. Negligence may also occur if a pharmacist gives the patient the wrong dosage instructions, fails to advise the patient about drug interactions or fails to warn the patient about possible side effects. Furthermore, a pharmacist may even be held liable if the physician writes a prescription for the wrong medication and the pharmacist should have caught the mistake.
Patients who are injured due to the negligence of a pharmacist may be awarded both compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are designed to pay for expenses that the patient incurred because of the negligence. For example, if the patient had to go to the emergency room to get treated for an adverse reaction to an incorrect medication, then the pharmacist may be liable for the bills associate with the hospital visit. In addition, if the patient was unable to work, then the pharmacist may have to pay for the patient’s lost wages. Moreover, the negligent pharmacist may be liable to the patient or the patient’s family for punitive damages that would provide a monetary award above the actual expenses related to the negligent act. Punitive damages are sometimes awarded in order to punish the negligent person and to deter the negligent behavior.
Unfortunately, pharmacy negligence is far from uncommon. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration medication errors cause at least one death each day and result in injuries to over 1.3 million people each year. If you believe that you or a loved one was injured due to the negligence of a pharmacy, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An attorney familiar with the complexities of medical malpractices cases will be able to review the facts of your case with you, educate you on your legal rights and help you get the best possible result.