Are Pharmacists Legally Liable for Dosing and other Prescription Errors?
Suppose you get the same prescription every two weeks or every 30 days for a year. Do you check the label on your prescription bottle each time to make sure the dosage is correct? Every day, patients put their lives, the lives of their family members, and even the lives of their children, into the hands of pharmacists across the country. Pharmacists pledge an oath to “consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering as their primary concerns.” Accordingly, we the public place great faith in our local pharmacist (usually whichever one happens to be closest to our home or office) to fill prescriptions accurately and often turn to that same pharmacist for consult and guidance.
In recent years, as the industry has consolidated and the large grocery and big box stores have entered the market, pharmacists have been under increased pressure to service more and more patients. This phenomenon has been reported in numerous publications, including an article last year in The New York Times regarding the mounting pressures of large retail pharmacists and staff, focusing on CVS.
Due in part to the changing nature of the industry and the loss of a personal relationship with your pharmacist, dosing errors are a significant issue in the United States and happen far more often than one might think. The FDA receives more than 100,000 reports every year that are related to medication errors. Many errors result in serious injury, require significant care and treatment, and are sometimes even fatal.
What are the responsibilities of a pharmacist?
A pharmacist’s job is considerably more than just counting and filling prescription bottles. Every pharmacist must follow particular laws, and these laws vary by state. Some states have a very narrow scope of what a pharmacist’s duties entail. In these instances, the pharmacist is supposed to follow the prescribing doctor’s instructions.
In Georgia, a pharmacist owes a duty of care to you as a patient. Accordingly, if a pharmacist sees something in the script that appears wrong, that pharmacist and the pharmacy cannot avoid liability by just following orders of the prescribing doctor.
For example, consider a patient is placed on a new prescription that has a dangerous side effect with another prescription that the pharmacy has recently filled. In this case, the pharmacist may have a duty to consult with the patient or even the prescribing doctor to ensure a dangerous complication does not result.
The same is true if the pharmacist notices or should notice that the dosage appears unreasonably high or low based on the patient, medical issue, or drug prescribed. A pharmacist may have a duty to consult with a patient’s healthcare provider if a patient is prescribed a medication that could be harmful based on a medical condition either noted in their history or inferred by the types of other medications being prescribed. Pharmacists may have the responsibility of contacting a patient’s healthcare provider if they are alerted to potential red flags – like a cocktail of multiple medicines that may have adverse effects when combined.
In sum, if there is an issue with the received prescription that would put a reasonable pharmacist on notice that harm could result by filling the medication as prescribed, the pharmacist may be liable for harm caused from merely filling the prescription.
What details and errors can a pharmacist be held liable for?
At the top of the list is dispensing the wrong medication, either by filling the incorrect strength, denoting the wrong dose, or mislabeling bottles and handing a patient a completely incorrect prescription. All these scenarios could be lethal, happen more than we like to believe, and are unacceptable.
Can a pharmacist be sued for negligence?
Absolutely. Under Georgia law, pharmacists are professionals such that suits against them must follow with the same requirements as suits against doctors. What this means practically is that another licensed pharmacist must swear under oath as to what your pharmacist did or did not do that breached the standard of care causing you harm, also known as an Expert Affidavit. The Expert Affidavit must accompany the lawsuit that is filed. If you cannot get another pharmacist to testify under oath that your pharmacist breached the standard of care in one or more areas, you cannot maintain a lawsuit under Georgia law.
Cases against pharmacists are similar to lawsuits against doctors and hospitals in that they are frequently expensive to bring, take a lot of time and effort, and are often vigorously defended. Accordingly, in most cases, for a suit to be viable, damages must be severe. For instance, if a pharmacist gave you someone else’s medication, and you take a dose which causes you some mild nausea before realizing that someone else’s name is on the pill bottle, that probably does not give rise to much of a case. Fortunately, your damages are not significant enough to warrant costs and expenses involved in hiring a lawyer and pursuing a lawsuit. You may be better off politely pointing out the issue and asking not to be charged for the correct medication.
What compensation am I entitled to if I have been injured due to a pharmacist’s dosing error?
If you have been significantly harmed by a pharmacist’s negligence, you are entitled to full compensation for your physical and financial damages, which includes general damages such as pain and suffering. Your compensation may include recovery for incurred medical bills, future medical costs, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and diminished quality of life. As in all other cases, it would be your burden to prove the medication error of the pharmacist caused these damages.
Most medication errors are easily preventable and caused by small lapses in attention to detail and failure to follow established procedures and protocols. It is up to the pharmacist to ensure that an adult (or child) receives their proper prescription at the correct dosage.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
If you or a family member has been injured or killed due to a dosing error or any other form of negligence mentioned above, Atlanta medical malpractice attorney Bryan Baer at The Baer Law Firm is available to help. Call us at 404.THE.BAER (404.843.2237) or fill out our confidential contact form. We are here to discuss your legal matter and offer honest advice.
Attorney Bryan Baer has twenty (20) years of legal experience representing clients in serious and catastrophic personal injury and medical malpractice cases. He has been first chair in more than a dozen twelve-person jury trials on both the plaintiff and defense sides. Recognized as a leader in his legal community, he is frequently asked to speak at legal seminars on trial topics ranging from “Best Practices in Voire Dire” to “Maximizing Damages at Trial” as well as insurance issues such as “Navigating the Insurance Landscape” and “Injury Demands & Negotiations.” Learn more here.