A Texas appeals court recently issued an opinion addressing whether pharmacies owe third parties a duty of care when an accident occurs because of a pharmacy’s negligence. Two sets of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against a Texas Walgreens after they negligently gave a customer the wrong prescription. Evidently, Walgreens gave the customer a diabetes medication that can cause a drop in blood pressure, which is often associated with behavioral changes and cognitive impairments. The customer was on the drug when he began driving erratically and caused a fatal Texas car accident. The customer’s son settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Walgreens. The two other victims’ representatives sued Walgreens, alleging that the pharmacy was negligent under third party liability and negligence per se. Walgreens moved to dismiss the case, arguing that pharmacies do not owe third parties a duty of care and that negligence per se does not apply. The lower court found in favor of Walgreens, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
Generally, under Texas law, pharmacy malpractice is a type of medical malpractice that occurs because of a negligent pharmacist or pharmacy technician. Texas pharmacy errors can have severe and even fatal consequences. Pharmacy errors can cause overdoses, congenital disabilities, allergic reactions, and even death. This can occur when a pharmacy provides a patient with the wrong prescription, fills an incorrect dosage, or fails to provide counseling. When the injury victim is the pharmacy’s customer, establishing liability is relatively straight-forward. Challenges arise in cases where the victim is a third-party that suffered injuries by another party that acted negligently because of a pharmacy error.
Generally, under Texas law, healthcare providers are not liable to a third-party non-patient when that person suffers injuries because of the misdiagnosis or treatment of the healthcare provider’s patient. Typically, pharmacists fall under the purview of healthcare providers; however, there are some instances, such as merely filing an existing prescription, that do not rise to the level of a healthcare provider.
Courts will look to whether third-party harm is foreseeable. In determining foreseeability, courts will weigh the risk, foreseeability, and likelihood of injury against the burden imposed on the defendant. Courts will also look to whether the defendant had the right or ability to control the person who caused the harm.
In this case, the court found that although Texas recognizes that there is a duty of care between licensees and third parties injured by drunk drivers, the law does not extend to pharmacies and third parties that suffer injuries because of incorrect prescriptions. Moreover, although there are laws that impose criminal and potential civil liability on pharmacies that provide customers with medications without a prescription, the law was not designed to prevent the harm that the plaintiffs suffered. Ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court found in favor of Walgreens.
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