Earlier this month, a court in Nevada heard a case involving an interesting legal issue that has recently come up in courts across the nation. In the case, Burton v. Walgreen, the issue was whether a pharmacy had a duty to preserve evidence of an error made by one of the pharmacists. The court determined that whenever a patient returns medication to a pharmacy that was given to him in error, the pharmacy does have a duty to preserve it.
According to a summary of the case, the patient was prescribed Valsartan, which is a blood pressure medication. He filled the prescription at a local Walgreen’s pharmacy, and when he got home, he began taking the medication as instructed. After taking about five doses, the patient’s wife noticed that there were two different kinds of pills in the vial that her husband was provided. The patient’s wife then took the medication back to the pharmacy, where the pharmacist confirmed that the patient had been given unprescribed lithium pills in addition to his Valsartan.
After documenting the error, the pharmacist quarantined and destroyed the medication, pursuant to the company’s written policy. In a lawsuit later filed against the pharmacy, the patient claimed that the pharmacy had engaged in spoliation of evidence. Spoliation of evidence is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence by someone who knows or should know that the evidence will be used as evidence in an upcoming court case. A court can impose sanctions against a party for spoliation of evidence.