Magazine article Drug Topics

Punitive Action

Magazine article Drug Topics

Punitive Action

Article excerpt

The Harco Drug Co. was recently slapped with a $255,000 judgment. Of that amount, $150,000 was punitive, after it was determined that pharmacists had negligently misfilled a patient's prescription at one of the chain's Alabama facilities. The complaint charged that the company, Harco, failed to initiate sufficient institutional controls over the manner in which prescriptions were filled.

In West Virginia, a Phar-Mor customer who was given a tenfold overdose of a medication sought punitive damages against Phar-Mor and received $272,750 in an out-of-court settlement (see story on page 26).

Is there a trend emerging in the number of punitive-damage suits being brought against pharmacists? Not quite. But some pharmacists and legal observers fear that a climate may exist that could precipitate an increase in punitive-damage claims and judgments.

In the mid-198Os, there were relatively few punitive damage verdicts against pharmacists or pharmacy companies. But in the past year and a half, there have been at least a half-dozen punitive damages allowed by judges in pharmacy-related cases.

"I think that there are going to be more," said Jim O'Donnell, an Illinois-based pharmacy consultant who was an expert witness in the Harco case. O'Donnell, who is coauthor of a new book entitled Pharmacy Law: Litigating Pharmaceutical Cases, said that one precipitator could be the current level of consciousness about drug errors and the media attention medical errors are getting in general.

Others charge that more alarming than the actual numbers are the types of punitive damages that are being sought. "I'm seeing an increase in awards for and requests for punitive damages primarily against pharmacies, not pharmacists," said David Brushwood, professor of pharmacy health-care administration, at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Brushwood said that punitive-damage awards occur mainly as a result of egregious misconduct or cover-ups of errors that could have prevented harm to a patient if brought to the patient's attention. "What I've begun to notice in the last year or so is litigation brought against pharmacies for failing to maintain institutional controls or failing to utilize quality assurance programs," he observed. …

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