Prescription and pharmacy errors can have devastating consequences for patients and can leave the families of loved ones left seeking compensation and punitive measures to ensure that others do not experience similar harms. A recently published news report discusses the decision by a Midwest court to deny an award of punitive damages. This case involved a labeling error and the failure to correct the error by multiple pharmacists, which resulted in the death of a patient.
According to the facts discussed in the recently published news report, a patient’s death resulted in the family suing the pharmacy for both compensatory and punitive damages. A cardiologist issued a prescription of amiodarone for a male patient who suffered from chronic ischemic heart disease and atrial fibrillation. The pharmacist responsible for initially dispensing the medication made an error by failing to completely and accurately record the medication use directions on the container label. The pharmacist’s labeling error led to the patient being instructed to take a higher daily dosage than the cardiologist intended. A second pharmacist and a third pharmacist did not catch the error when the patient returned multiple times for additional supplies of the medication. The patient’s health deteriorated and he eventually passed away.
The family sued, seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages seek to compensate a party for their expenses and the loss suffered. A liability insurance policy can cover the amount awarded as compensatory damages. The pharmacy chain in this case had liability insurance. Punitive damages, on the other hand, involve the jury awarding an amount as punishment, and in this case, as punishment specifically for the chain’s pharmacists’ failure to act in a manner that would have prevented death. Punitive damages cannot be covered by the insurance policy.