Punitive Damages in Maryland Pharmacy Error Cases

Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion addressing issues that frequently occur in Maryland pharmacy error lawsuits. The lawsuit stemmed from the tragic death of a woman who received the wrong medication from her pharmacy. Evidently, the woman was treated at a hospital for fluid buildup in her lungs. At discharge, a nurse called the woman’s pharmacy, spoke to a pharmacy technician, and ordered a prescription for a diuretic. However, the technician made several errors when inputting the patient’s information, including wrong identifying information, incorrect spelling of the nurse’s name, and misspelling of several medications. However, the most egregious error was misreporting a medication and dosage. This error had severe consequences, as the patient died as a result of the incorrect medication.

The woman’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and the pharmacy, alleging damages for negligence and requesting additional damages due to aggravating circumstances. The hospital settled their claims, and the lawsuit against the pharmacy proceeded to trial. The pharmacy moved to dismiss the aggravating circumstances portion of the lawsuit. The trial court granted the motion, and the jury awarded the family two million dollars in damages; however, the amount was significantly reduced because of the applicable damage caps. The family appealed the judge’s decision to dismiss the aggravating circumstances element of their claim.

Under Maryland law, pharmacy error plaintiffs can recover damages for the injuries they sustained because of the pharmacy’s negligence. Maryland law allows plaintiffs to recover compensatory damages to make them “whole again.” There are two main types of compensatory damages, special and general. Special damages are usually tangible costs that the plaintiff incurred because of the defendant’s negligence. Whereas, general damages are those that cannot be easily quantifiable, such as pain and suffering.

In especially egregious, rare cases Maryland allows plaintiffs to argue that there are aggravating circumstances that entitle them to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to deter the defendant from engaging in similar behavior and punish them for their gross negligence. Plaintiffs must be able to show that the defendant acted with “actual malice.” Making such a showing is difficult, and generally requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant had an “evil motive.”

In this case, the family argued that the pharmacy’s conduct amounted to aggravating circumstances. They cited that the pharmacy technician lacked any formal training or education and made several grave errors. Further, the pharmacist on duty stated that he approved the medication and that it would not have been deadly if it was prescribed weekly instead of daily. However, he conceded that he could not explain why the dosage did not register any alarms to him. Further, the incorrect medication involved in the error was a “high-alert” product that alarms many pharmacy computer systems to review the dosage before printing a label. The family stated that when the husband picked up the medication, staff asked whether he had any questions, and when he responded no, they did not provide any further information. However, the pharmacy chain’s protocol requires that staff “strongly recommend” that patients with new prescriptions receive counseling. The appellate court held that the pharmacy’s failure to both strongly recommend counseling when the consequences could be fatal showed a conscious indifference to the health and safety of their patients, allowing the family’s claims.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Pharmacy Error in Maryland?

If you or a loved one suffered injuries or death because of a pharmacy error, contact Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers. The attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have extensive experience handling complex Maryland pharmacy error lawsuits. The consequences of a pharmacy’s mistakes can be devastating, and victims and their loved ones deserve compensation for the injuries they have suffered. Call 800-654-1949 to schedule your free initial consultation.

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