We tend to think of pharmacists in the same world as doctors and nurses, so we often assume the same rules apply. When it comes to professional malpractice, they don’t. Pharmacists are not considered ‘practitioners’ under the Florida Medical Malpractice Statute which means they have a different set of rules and duties.
Florida pharmacists can be held responsible for negligence in the workplace. In the past, as long as the pharmacy complied with the prescription, even if it was clearly wrong, the doctor carried the blame. More recent case law has changed the tide, placing on pharmacists the responsibility for harming patients on a negligence standard.
Florida courts have held pharmacies responsible for the deaths and injuries to people who were given dangerously high doses of medication, experienced adverse reactions from mixing and refilling prescription drugs in such a sort window of time that the patient could not have possibly taken only the recommended doses and others who had allergic reactions to drugs they were prescribed.
Seemingly small errors like the placement of a decimal point can result in deadly consequences when dealing with medications. It can result in ten or one hundred times the intended dosage if not caught by a prudent pharmacist.
Florida Cases Explaining Pharmacist’s Duty to Patients
Pharmacists owe their customers a duty to possess and exercise a reasonable degree of skill, care and knowledge that would be exercised by a reasonably prudent pharmacist in the same situation. The standard is based on a reasonable person standard which is usually established by rules and testimony of other pharmacists in the area. This duty of reasonable care has been further defined in case law.
In a 2004 case, Dee v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc., 878 So.2d 426 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004), a woman was prescribed a painkiller containing Fentanyl after a cesarean section. Four months after the date it was initially prescribed to her she refilled the prescription, thinking it would help with ankle pain. She didn’t know Fentanyl is a drug which can be fatal when taken by someone who is not on an active drug regimen. She died in her sleep after taking the drug.
Her family brought suit against the pharmacy, arguing the pharmacy should have warned the patient of the dangers or sought authorization from the doctor. This case was decided in favor of the woman’s family on the theory that if a pharmacy fills a prescription that is unreasonable on its face, it breaches its duty of care, even if the prescription is lawful as written by the doctor.
In Powers v. Thobani, 903 So.2d 275 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), another Florida court determined a doctor who was overprescribing narcotics to a patient and two separate pharmacies who filled those prescriptions could be held responsible for that woman’s overdose. The pharmacies were found to be negligent for their repeated fillings of the dangerous medication so close in time that there was no way she could have been taking the medication as prescribed.
Other courts have held pharmacists responsible for filling prescriptions despite a person having a known allergy to that drug in the pharmacy records or because they were written in a quantity, frequency, dosage or combination that a reasonable pharmacist would have checked with the physician or warned the patient of the risks.
Safeguards at the Pharmacy
Many pharmacies use a computer program which checks all prescriptions against a database of known safe ranges for a medication in an effort to increase patient safety. If a drug quantity or dosage falls outside that safe range, the pharmacist is required to verify the details of the prescription with the prescribing doctor or warn the patient of the dangers associated with that drug and note their actions in the patient’s record.
Let Us Help You
Unfortunately, these databases sometimes fail and pharmacists make mistakes. If you have lost a family member or been injured yourself as a result of a pharmacist’s negligence, contact our office to learn about your options. We are happy to schedule you for a free consultation with an attorney who will evaluate your claim and give you straight forward advice. Even if we are unable to take on your case, we always do our best to suggest other attorneys who can assist you.