Pharmacist and Pharmacy Liability: An Overview

The United States health care system relies upon the efforts of numerous hard-working professionals. We immediately think about providers who treat us directly, such as doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, and chiropractors. But there are other highly trained professionals who, although they may not provide direct care, are crucial to the functioning of the system. Examples include lab workers, technicians, and pharmacists. In fact, drugs are often so crucial to successful medical treatment that pharmacists are involved in almost all stages of medical care.

Fortunately, most pharmacists perform their jobs diligently. Unfortunately, medication errors, whether made by pharmacists or others, can cause serious harm. According to the Food and Drug Administration, medication errors result in at least one death daily, and cause 1.3 million injuries yearly. In this article, we’ll consider the role of pharmacy in the medical care system, and discuss what happens when the mistakes of pharmacists injure patients.

The Professional Status of Pharmacists

Oregon Revised Statutes Annotated Section 689.025 declares, in part, that “the practice of pharmacy in the State of Oregon is declared a health care professional practice affecting the public health, safety and welfare.” Like other professionals in the health care system, pharmacists must meet education requirements, obtain a state license, and meet continuing education requirements. Moreover, Oregon law creates a State Board of Pharmacy, which is responsible for making appropriate rules for the governance of pharmacists. Of course, with professional status comes professional responsibility. This is consistent with our view that society is safer when all members are held accountable for their actions.

Proving Pharmacist or Pharmacy Malpractice

To prove that a pharmacist is liable for malpractice, the plaintiff must prove:

  1. The pharmacist owed a duty to the patient/customer;
  2. The pharmacist breached the duty to the patient/customer;
  3. The patient/customer suffered injury, measurable in damages; and
  4. The negligence of the pharmacist caused the damages.

What Are Some Common Mistakes a Pharmacy or Pharmacist Might Make?

After a doctor prescribes a medication, we put great trust in the pharmacist to follow the prescribing doctor’s instructions. Unfortunately, this does not always occur. Following are some possible errors:

  • Confusing customer names and providing the wrong drug to the wrong person
  • Directing the patient to take an incorrect dosage
  • Using the incorrect strength of the correct medicine

While these errors are clearly negligent, sometimes the law is less clear. For example, what happens if a pharmacist fails to warn a customer of the dangers of a drug? In one well-known Oregon case, Docken v. Ciba-Geigy, a gentleman died after swallowing several tablets of Imipramine. His mother (as the representative of his estate) filed a wrongful death action against multiple defendants, including the pharmacy that filled the prescription for the drug. The plaintiff contended that the pharmacy failed to warn of the dangers of the drug, but did not offer any expert testimony supporting the contention that the pharmacy acted negligently.

The Oregon appellate court first noted that many states place the duty to warn on the physician, rather than on the pharmacist. Then, the Court stated that in Oregon an expert must testify regarding the standard of care in the community before a pharmacy or pharmacist can be found to be negligent for a failure to warn. This leaves open the possibility that a pharmacist or pharmacy could be found to be negligent in some failure to warn cases, but not in others. In our view, this means that the facts of each such case must be analyzed carefully.

Call with Questions

If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered injury due to the negligence of a pharmacist or pharmacy, please call us with your questions or for a free consultation. Our experienced lawyers are familiar with the laws regarding professional liability, and will be happy to help you evaluate your case and to perform any necessary investigations.


Helpful links

Oregon Board of Pharmacy:

Oregon Pharmacy Laws and Rules:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Statistics:

Text of Docken v. Ciba-Geigy:

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