Recent Pharmacy Error Case Highlights Malice as an Essential Element in Punitive Damages Claim

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.

In this case, the court held that the family was not entitled to punitive damages because there was an absence of malice. Actual malice is a “positive state of mind, evidenced by the positive desire and intention to injure another, actuated by hatred or ill will toward that person.” Here, the plaintiffs did not allege that the pharmacy chain or the pharmacists had actual malice. Additionally presumed malice “does not require that the individual act out of hatred or ill will but requires that an individual acts ‘willfully or wantonly to the injury of another.”

What Is Malice?

Malice is presumed from acts that are “conceived in the spirit of mischief or of criminal indifference to civil obligation.” Here, the court did not find that the gross negligence of the pharmacists was equivalent of wanton or willful misconduct. Therefore, the court did not award punitive damages to the family of the deceased. This court case highlights that a finding of malice is an essential element of a claim for punitive damages in pharmacy error lawsuits.

Have You Been Injured from a Pharmacy Error?

If you or a loved one suspects that a medical provider in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, D.C. has made a prescription error that resulted in a worsening of symptoms, injury, or even death, you may The dedicated malpractice attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen are experienced in representing clients dealing with pharmacy error and are ready to use their compassion to ensure that their clients feel supported through a difficult time. Call us today to schedule a no-obligation consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys to discuss your issue. Call now at 800-654-1949 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our attorneys.

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