Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds that Summary Judgment Was Improper in Pharmaceutical Negligence Case

According to studies, about two out of three Americans take at least one prescription drug. To get their medications, most patients must visit a pharmacy at least once a month. What happens when there is a problem with the paperwork that would normally allow the patient to receive the medicine in a timely fashion?

In a recent Massachusetts pharmacy error case, a 19-year-old patient died after she was denied a life-saving medication because her doctor had not completed a certain insurance form. The pharmacy claimed that it owed no duty to the patient under the circumstances, but the state’s highest court held otherwise.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided appellate case, the plaintiff was the administratrix of the estate of a young woman who died after suffering a seizure in 2009. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants, a pharmacy and others, seeking compensation for the young woman’s wrongful death and asking for punitive damages. The pharmacy moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no legal duty to the deceased.

The plaintiff’s response to the pharmacy’s motion argued that the pharmacy had a legal duty, or voluntarily assumed such a duty, to notify the deceased’s treating physician of the need for the “prior authorization” required by her insurer, MassHealth, in order to fill the deceased’s prescription for Topomax, a medication that the deceased was prescribed to control life-threatening seizures.  The trial court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed. On its own initiative, the state’s highest court (the Supreme Judicial Court) transferred the case from the intermediate appeals court.

The Court’s Holding

Phrasing the issue as “whether a pharmacy has a legal duty to notify a prescribing physician when a patient’s health insurer informs the pharmacy that it requires a ‘prior authorization’ form from the physician,” the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the lower tribunal’s grant of summary judgment to the pharmacy and remanded the case for further proceedings.

According to the court, the evolving nature of the pharmacist-patient relationship between the deceased’s family and the defendant was such that the defendant owed a limited duty to take reasonable steps to notify both the decedent and her treating physician of the need for prior authorization each time the decedent attempted to fill her prescription. In so holding, the court noted that the defendant pharmacy held a “specific knowledge regarding the need for prior authorization, the industry-wide customs and practices of pharmacies handling prior authorization requests, and the foreseeability of the harm to [the decedent].”

Schedule a Consultation with a Cape Cod Wrongful Death Lawyer

Just as doctors, nurses, and hospitals can be held accountable for injuries to patients due to malpractice, pharmaceutical negligence can also result in monetary compensation for patients who are able to prove that they were owed a legal duty, that this duty was breached, and that they were harmed as a proximate result. To talk to a pharmacy negligence attorney who practices in the Cape Cod area, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664. We have offices in Hyannis and Plymouth, and there is no charge for the initial consultation.

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