Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
July 31, 2017

Can I Sue My Pharmacy for Giving Me the Wrong Medication?

Some Florida residents have discovered that Walgreens gave them the wrong prescription medication or CVS filled their prescription with the wrong dosage. Perhaps a Wal-Mart pharmacy dispensed a prescription labeled with the wrong instructions or gave the recipient someone else’s medication by accident.

Many Floridians ask us if they can file a lawsuit against a Florida pharmacy for giving them the wrong medication or making any of another dozen (listed below) potentially deadly errors.

The short answer? Yes, absolutely.

You can sue a pharmacy for any damages resulting from receiving a different medication than the one prescribed or other error.

In fact, suing a pharmacy for giving you the wrong medication, wrong dosage, or wrong instructions is important. Not only does it earn you the financial compensation you deserve, it holds pharmacies and pharmacists accountable for their negligent actions and can help prevent dangerous, potentially deadly accidents from occurring in the future.

If a Florida CVS, Walgreens, Publix or other pharmacy has given you or a loved one the wrong medication, dose or instructions, this article explains what to do next, how to file a lawsuit against the pharmacy and how to win the financial compensation to which you are entitled.

Pharmacy Errors Are Increasing at An Alarming Rate

Most of us take at least one type of medication at some point in our lives. U.S pharmacies fill around 4 billion prescriptions each year. The two largest pharmacy outfits, CVS and Walgreens, fill around 1.3 billion of these prescriptions.

Pharmacies associated with retailers such as Wal-Mart, Publix, Rite-Aid, Sam’s Club, Costco, and Target, along with hospital pharmacies and internet pharmacies fill the rest.

Patients trust that their doctors will prescribe the right medication and dosage instructions and that pharmacists will then fill that prescription accordingly. Yet, with the ever-expanding number of new drugs entering the market and more and more Baby Boomers becoming dependent on medications, pharmacy error rates are rising at frightening rates in Florida and across the U.S.

Pharmacies give the wrong medications to an estimated 51.5 million people each year. Errors jumped 462%, from 16,689 in 2010 to over 93,930 in 2016, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS). These numbers are likely much higher since FAERS data comes from a voluntary reporting system.

The FDA reports that these mistakes injure around 1.3 million Americans annually and cause at least one death every day.

Why Do Pharmacies Make Mistakes When Filling Prescriptions?

While there is zero excuse for a pharmacy to make a mistake when filling your prescription, they continue to drop the ball. There are several reasons for this:

Cutting Costs to Increase Profits

CVS, Walgreens and other big pharmacy chains may be multi-million-dollar companies, but they continue to try to increase profits by cutting costs – most often by hiring undertrained pharmacy technicians to do the job of licensed pharmacists or by hiring fewer pharmacists than needed for the workload.

Currently, American pharmacies employ just 240,000 pharmacists to fill 4 billion prescriptions annually. This equals rushed and fatigued pharmacists trying to do multiple jobs. They simply don’t have the time to double check that the patient name, medication and doses are correct.

Lacking Proper Quality Control Systems

Pharmacies that don’t have a solid prescription filling procedure that checks and rechecks for mistakes from start to finish are asking for mistakes to occur.

Poor workflow systems allow for errors at every stage without the full focus of the pharmacists. Pharmacies must use systems that check and double check for errors without much effort. Otherwise, mistakes can happen in computer entry of the provider’s information, verification of patient phone number, address and birth date, drug and dosage, pill counts, and label instructions. Mistakes in any of these areas can result in giving the wrong drug to the wrong patient, giving the wrong dose, or providing incorrect instructions.

Poor Pharmacist – Doctor Communication

Overloaded pharmacists who don’t take the time to clarify dosage or medication instructions with the prescribing physician can make mistakes. Pharmacists should only fill a prescription when they are certain of the medication, dosage and directions that the doctor requests.

Many pharmacist mistakes occur when they can’t read the doctors instructions, quickly make a guess, and fill the prescription to just to get through their workload faster.

Courts may consider all of these as negligence on the part of the pharmacy.

In addition, some cases of pharmacy error may be malpractice cases. Physicians may enter the wrong instructions or dosages for the pharmacist to fill. A physician may prescribe a medication without examining the patient’s medical record for other drugs that could cause harmful drug interactions or for previous reports of allergies. In these cases, the physician may be guilty of malpractice.

Several Types of Pharmacy Errors Entitle You to Financial Compensation

The scary thing about a doctor or pharmacist making errors when filling our prescription medications is that the errors can be – and often are – life threatening. Taking the wrong medication can result in an overdose, underdose, harmful side effects, debilitating drug interactions or deadly allergic reactions.

We have seen individuals suffering from permanent kidney damage, liver failure and brain damage caused by pharmacy errors.

Children or elderly patients who receive a normal adult dose of a medication can quickly suffer from overdose. Cancer patients who receive the wrong chemotherapeutic treatment can succumb to a treatable cancer. Hypertension patients who receive a medication for the common cold can quickly die from heart failure. In fact, many pharmacy errors go unnoticed until the patient exhibits symptoms, by which time it can be too late.

When pharmacy errors cause injury or death to a patient, the pharmacist, pharmacy and doctor may be responsible for negligence or malpractice. Patients and families are entitled to collect financial compensation for these dangerous mistakes.

Common types of pharmacy errors that create eligibility for financial compensation include:

Pharmacy Gave Me the Wrong Medication

Studies have shown that overworked pharmacists and undertrained pharmacy technicians frequently mix up drugs with similar names or packaging. A 10-year study on pharmacy dispensing errors found that 43.8% of pharmacist liability claims came from patients receiving the wrong drug, mostly due to a mix-up with the names.

According to the study, prescriptions for the high blood pressure medication, Clonidine, were the most confused, often filled instead with the anti-seizure drug clonazepam (Klonopin) or the blood glucose lowering drug, glipizide (Glucotrol). Other common pharmacist mistakes due to name confusion included:

  • Dispensing the Alzheimer’s drug donepezil (Aricept) instead of acid-reflux medication rabeprazole (AcipHex)
  • Mistakenly filling the OCD drug clomipramine (Anafranil) with the infertility drug clomiphene
  • Erroneously giving patients the corticosteroid prednisone instead of the anticonvulsant primidone
  • Mixing up prescriptions for the hypertension drug metoprolol (Toprol) with the seizure drug topiramate (Topamax)

In January 2015, CVS filled a prescription for a young Philadelphia girl to treat her seizures. The girl later went through three hospitalizations for increased seizure activity, hypoglycemia, glimepiride/sulfonylurea poisoning, and hyperinsulinemia. Her mother claims she later discovered her daughter’s medication contained glimepiride (a diabetes medication) instead of the prescribed anti-seizure drug glycopyrrolate.

Many times, a name mix up is not the reason for the wrong medication. Instead, poor training, higher workloads, and distractions can cause these lethal mistakes. In March 2016, an 8-year old boy died after taking one dose of his newly filled prescription for the sleep disorder drug, Tryptophan. The coroner’s report showed that the liquid actually contained 3 times the maximum adult dose of Baclofen, a powerful muscle relaxant.

Investigators concluded that the compounding pharmacist grabbed the wrong powder when mixing the liquid medication – with deadly results.

Pharmacy Gave Me the Wrong Drug Dosage

The same 10-year study mentioned above found that 31.5% of pharmacist liability claims came from patients receiving the wrong dose of a medication. Several recent cases demonstrate the life-threatening consequences of these mistakes.

In June 2016, an 8-year-old Colorado boy died after a taking a newly filled Clonidine prescription. A laboratory analysis of his medication showed the drug he was taking contained 1,000 times his normal dose, causing brain swelling and sudden death due to an autoimmune response.

In June 2002, a Florida woman was taking the blood thinner, warfarin (Coumadin), to reduce the risk of blood clots associated with her chemotherapy for breast cancer. Walgreen’s filled her warfarin refill with 10 times her normal dose. She suffered cerebral hemorrhage and brain damage.

The family sued Walgreens for negligence and wrongful death, and won.

Pharmacy Gave Me the Wrong Instructions

Most of us rely heavily on the instructions written on our prescription bottles, especially when they are for a new drug we have never taken before. Wrong instructions on a prescription bottle can be terribly dangerous. For example, in July 2001, a 46-year old Jacksonville roofing contractor went to his local Walgreen’s to pick up a new prescription for methadone. The doctor prescribed it to help with chronic neuropathy pain in his back and legs.

Terry Paul Smith died 36 hours later. An autopsy found his death was due to accidental methadone overdose. The instructions on the bottle label were supposed to read “take four 10-milligram tablets, twice daily,” but instead read “take as needed.” Smith had never taken methadone before and took around 1.5 pills per hour over a day and a half.

In Smith’s case, lawsuit interviews and depositions suggest that an inexperienced technician and an overworked pharmacist could have been responsible for typing the wrong instructions onto the prescription bottle.

Smith’s prescription was one of 380 dispensed that day. Walgreens settled the lawsuit with Smith’s family in a confidential agreement barring discussion of the case.

Pharmacy Gave Me Someone Else’s Medication

Pharmacies are liable for negligence when they give you someone else’s prescription by mistake. This type of pharmacy error is more common than one would think. When more than one patient with the same name or birthdate is in the system and the pharmacist does not double check that the medication matches the illness, deadly mistakes can result.

For example, in March 2007, 66-year-old George Smith of Maryland died eight days after a Wal-Mart pharmacy gave him someone else’s prescription. In February 2009, Smith’s children reached a $3 million wrongful death settlement with Wal-Mart for pain and suffering damages.

These mistakes are particularly common when you order medications from online pharmacies (also known as internet pharmacies or mail order pharmacies). These pharmacies use databases holding data for massive numbers of patients, with a higher likelihood for overlapping names and birthdates.

Pharmacist Did Not Talk to Me about My Medication

Pharmacists must offer to explain the details of your prescription each time you go to have one filled, even if you have taken the prescription before. If the pharmacist doesn’t offer a counseling session or doesn’t answer all your questions about the prescription, the pharmacy can be held liable for negligence.

In June 2016, an Arizona jury awarded $6 million to the family of a 31-year-old high school wrestling coach after he died from a toxic interaction between the drugs methadone and Tramadol. A Walgreens pharmacy had filled both prescriptions for Eric Warren, yet did not warn him of the dangers of taking both drugs together.

Walgreens pharmacists also failed to alert Eric’s doctor to the potential interactions of the two drugs.

In another case, a 39-year old pregnant woman developed a kidney infection and claimed that the infection caused her to deliver her baby prematurely, resulting in its death. The woman claimed that her Wal-Mart pharmacist did not speak clearly enough and did not tell her about the potential side effects of the medication in pregnant women, leading to her overdosing on the medication. A California jury awarded the woman $160,000.

How to Catch a Pharmacy Mistake Early On

Florida residents who rely on prescription medications to stay healthy face a real danger of pharmacy error. Many victims of pharmacy error only detect a mistake after it is too late and the damage is done. Taking a few simple steps can help each of us protect ourselves from taking the wrong medication or giving the wrong medication to a loved one.

(1) Read the label. Make sure the medication bottle has your name on it and the correct drug, dosage and instructions that you discussed with your physician. If you have any doubts, call your physician to ask that the drug and dose listed on the label is correct for your condition.

(2) Talk with your pharmacist. Take time out to let your pharmacist know of any other drugs you are taking and any allergies you have. Ask any questions about side effects or potential drug interactions you may be concerned about.

(3) Avoid rush hour. Try to fill your prescriptions during the week and either early morning or after 7pm when pharmacies are less busy. Weekends, between 12pm and 2pm (lunchtime) and between 4pm and 6pm (after work) are often the busiest for pharmacies.

(4) Avoid online or mail-order pharmacies. While internet pharmacies can seem like a wonderful convenience for busy families, these pharmacies have a high volume of patients and very little personal communication, making the risk of mistakes much higher. Mix-ups between patient names and birthdates can be much more common, and individuals do not have the chance to ask the pharmacist questions or verify that no drug interactions or allergies are likely.

(5) Use an online pill identifier. You can find online pill identifier services on the National Institutes of Health website. While these identifiers may not include all medications, they do include many common prescription drugs on the market. Enter the color, shape and inscription of your tablets or capsules on the National Library of Medicine’s Pillbox or Pill Identifier to help you determine that the tablets your pharmacist gave you are the correct ones.

Pharmacies Have a Duty to Give You the Correct Prescription

Most of us scribble “pick up prescriptions” on our to-do list among loads of other errands. We whip through the drive through or try to multitask on our phones while waiting in line at the pharmacy counter.

We don’t take the time to check and double check that our medication is correct. And that is not our job. Most Florida residents aren’t pharmacists or doctors. It is not our job to know that the medication is correct, the dosage is correct or the instructions are correct.

Florida pharmacies, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have a duty to:

  • Comply with all FDA recalls or drug alerts and remove all expired medications from shelves
  • Verify that the physician prescribed the correct medicine, dose and amount
  • Confirm that the bottle contains the correct drug and dose
  • Confirm that the label lists the correct patient, drug name, dose and instructions
  • Review patient profiles for potential drug interactions, allergies or contraindications
  • Advise patients on the drug, its proper use, potential side effects and possible drug interactions

In addition, pharmacies have a duty to use due and proper care in filling prescriptions beyond simply following the prescribing physician’s directions. For example, in March 2011, Steven Porter died from combined drug intoxication after Daytona Discount Pharmacy continued to fill prescriptions for him, even though Porter ordered the medications before his prior prescriptions should have run out.

While Porter’s doctor had authorized the prescriptions, the court held the pharmacy negligent for not noticing the error and blindly filling the drugs without question.

When a pharmacy, pharmacist, pharmacy technician or prescribing doctor does not meet these requirements, the patient and their family may file a lawsuit for damages. The court may award damages to cover:

  • Medical bills resulting from the pharmacy’s error
  • Lost wages from missed work or employment loss
  • Disability resulting from the pharmacy’s mistake
  • Pain and suffering resulting from the pharmacy’s error
  • Loss of household income due to wrongful death

How to Win Financial Compensation for A Pharmacy Error

If you suspect that a pharmacy has given you the wrong prescription for any reason, stop taking the medication at once. Contact your physician if you have already taken the medication. Call 911 or visit medical emergency services if are experiencing adverse symptoms.

Contact an experienced Florida pharmacy error attorney as soon as possible – before contacting the pharmacy. Your Florida pharmacy error attorney will help protect your right to financial compensation in several ways. Our Kelley/Uustal Florida pharmacy negligence attorneys:

  • Communicate with the pharmacy about the error on your behalf
  • Collect documents and other evidence to support your case
  • Work with laboratory services for evidence on drug contents
  • Obtain medical expert opinion on the medical issues caused by the error
  • Investigate what caused the error and whether it has happened in the past
  • Help you adhere to the complex procedures and statutes of limitations involved pharmacy negligence and malpractice lawsuits
  • Maximize your amount of financial compensation

Your first consultation with our Florida pharmacy error attorneys at Kelley/Uustal is free and involves a confidential discussion around your suspicions or evidence of pharmacy error, and whether or not you may be eligible for financial compensation. Based on your specific information, we will discuss how best to continue in a way that will protect your rights.

Should you choose to file a claim, your lawyer will then help you prepare your case in a way that maximizes your financial compensation.

Remember to save the remaining medication and bottle. Label the bottle with a note to remind you not to use it. In addition, keep a diary of the times, dates, locations and any communication with doctors or pharmacists involved in filling the prescription.

Kelley/Uustal’s reputation as Florida’s premier pharmacy negligence law firm is based on over 325 years of combined experience protecting injured people by holding America’s most powerful corporations accountable for their actions. We continue to obtain multi-million-dollar jury verdicts and settlement negotiations for our well-deserving clients in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Cape Coral, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and across the state of Florida.

If a negligent Florida pharmacy’s actions have compromised your health in any way, contact us at Kelley/Uustal today. A pharmacy negligence and medical malpractice lawyer at our office can meet with you at our Ft. Lauderdale main office or any of our Florida satellite locations for a no-cost, no-obligation confidential consultation to discuss the details of your case.

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