Court Rejects Contributory Negligence Theory in Medication Error Case

When a pharmacy distributes the wrong medication, the patient can suffer severe health complications. A medication mix-up can cause physical injury and psychological harm, and a person may face steep medical bills to treat the complications of the mix-up. As a result, victims of a pharmacy error may seek to hold the pharmacy liable for their harm and recover compensation. However, when bringing a pharmacy malpractice lawsuit, plaintiffs should be aware that a pharmacy can defend itself through the concept of patient responsibility.

What Is Patient Responsibility?

In medication error lawsuits, the defendant can argue that a patient should have recognized the mix-up before taking the medication. For example, a pharmacy may argue that a patient should be able to tell that the color and shape of a medication differ from their previous doses. As a result, a patient’s failure to recognize a medication error may bar a damages award. Maryland is one of the few states that follows a contributory negligence theory of liability. Under contributory negligence, a plaintiff cannot recover any damages if they were partially at fault for their injury. Despite this high standard for recovery, some courts have refused to dismiss cases based on contributory negligence.

When Will Courts Allow Medication Error Lawsuits to Go Forward?

Recently, a federal court denied a pharmacy’s motion to dismiss a medical error lawsuit based on contributory negligence. The patient had taken two medications from the same pharmacy over many years. On one occasion, the pharmacy incorrectly processed a refill. However, the patient believed the color and shape of the medication were different because it was simply another generic brand. After feeling lightheaded and experiencing chest pain, the patient went to the hospital, where he was treated for the effects of an overdose on the incorrectly labeled medication. He then sued the pharmacy for negligence. The pharmacy moved to dismiss the case by arguing that the patient should not have taken the pill without first verifying with the pharmacy that it was the correct medication.

The court denied the pharmacy’s motion to dismiss. Contributory negligence is usually a question of fact for the jury, but a court may rule that contributory negligence supports dismissal as a matter of law. Here, the court found that the pharmacy must show as a matter of law that the patient consciously understood the risk of a medication error. In this case, it was reasonable for the patient to not affirmatively question the pharmacy on why the medication changed in appearance when he had filled it many times before and relied on the pharmacy’s label. Therefore, the court allowed the case to go forward. The case established that the pharmacy is responsible for detecting medication errors, not the patient.

Do You Need a Maryland Pharmacy Error Attorney?

If you have suffered harm from a medication error in Prince George’s, Charles, Baltimore, or Montgomery County, contact Lebowitz & Mzhen to understand your options for recovery. The experienced personal injury attorneys on our team have recovered significant compensation for victims of a pharmacy error. We understand the complicated rules for recovering damages in Maryland, including contributory negligence. If you have questions about your case, give us a call at 800-654-1949 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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