Appellate Court Imposes New Legal Duty on Florida Pharmacists
In early June 2005 a Florida appellate court ruled that a Florida pharmacist can be held legally liable for failing to warn patients about certain risks associated with their use of prescription drugs, even if the pharmacist is filling a doctor's prescriptions. This is the first time that a Florida state court has imposed such a legal duty on pharmacists dispensing drugs in Florida.
The patient in this case, a 46-year-old waitress, died from an overdose of prescription drugs. In the time leading up to her death, the patient had been taking six prescription drugs, including the powerful painkillers OxyContin and Percocet, as well as the anti-anxiety drug diazepam. These drugs are generally known to be harmful if taken together, and some of these drugs are highly addictive with long-term, repeated use.
Earlier in the proceedings for this lawsuit, the trial judge ruled that under Florida law a pharmacist is not liable for this type of patient overdose situation if the pharmacist is properly filling a doctor's prescriptions as written. A Florida appeals court, however, reversed that decision in this June 2005 ruling.
As the foundation for its decision, the 4th District Court of Appeals for Florida noted that pharmacists already must have "general knowledge" of the prescription drugs they dispense as well as the side effects risks those drugs present. Building upon this, Judge Mark E. Polen wrote for the Florida court: "Thus a strong policy basis already exists supporting a pharmacist's duty to warn customers of the risks inherent in filling repeated and unreasonable prescriptions with potentially fatal consequences."
In more detail, the 4th District Court of Appeals for Florida observed that its decision in this new case conflicts with rulings issued previously by two other Florida appeals courts in earlier cases with similar facts. This Florida appellate court, however, cited recent cases in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, and Tennessee wherein state courts have found that pharmacists have a legal duty to warn patients, doctors, or both about the possible serious side effect risks which can arise with either using prescription drugs repeatedly over a lengthy period or time, or using prescription drugs in certain combinations.
The attorney for one of the pharmacies named as a defendant in the underlying lawsuit said that this June 2005 appellate court decision would be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court in the near future.
(Posted by: Tom Lamb)