Massachusetts High Court Decides Whether Pharmacy Has Duty to Patients


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Many people in the U.S. depend on lifesaving medications. When those medications are unavailable or inaccessible, it can lead to severe consequences, up to and including death. That is what happened in this tragic case heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by the actions of someone else – whether due to a car accident, slip and fall, medical malpractice, or any other kind of wrongdoing – you should contact an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to see if you are able to hold the wrongdoers accountable under Massachusetts law. 

Medications and Prior Authorization 

The plaintiff in this case was 18 when she had her first seizure. She was brought to the hospital and given Topamax, an anti-seizure medication. She was instructed to continue taking the Tomamax. She filled her initial prescription at her pharmacy with no issues. When she tried to get a refill of the prescription, she was told it was too early and that in the future her insurance provider would require an authorization form to be filled out by her prescriber.

The plaintiff’s mother testified that the pharmacist told her it was the pharmacy’s policy to inform the prescriber through phone or fax, but in this case there wasn’t any evidence showing that the prescriber was notified. Though the court points out that there is no law requiring the pharmacy to do this. The pharmacy’s computer system requires only one click of the mouse to make the notification happen. However, at the time of this incident the pharmacy did not keep records about its contacts with prescribers.

Since the plaintiff in this case was 18 at the time of the initial prescription, and authorization is only required for patients over 18, she did not need the authorization. She was also able to refill the prescription at the appropriate time without issue. However, she turned 19 before the next refill. Around this time the plaintiff’s father contacted the prescriber approximately seven times to get the prior authorization.

Without the prior authorization the plaintiff was not able to afford her medication. During this time period she ended up having a seizure and died. Her parents brought this wrongful death action against the pharmacy.

Pharmacies and Negligence

In order to hold the pharmacy accountable for wrongful death, the plaintiffs need to prove that the pharmacy had a duty to the deceased and that they breached the duty. They also need to prove that the breach caused injury and damages. The crux of this case rests on whether – and what kind – of duty the pharmacy had to the deceased.

The court here concluded that the pharmacy did owe a duty to the deceased, but that the duty was a very limited one. Specifically, since the pharmacy had “specific knowledge” about needing the prior authorization and the harm that comes from being unable to access needed medication is foreseeable. Thus, the pharmacy did have some kind of duty to the deceased and the case can move forward to determine whether they were negligent and thus liable.

Contact an Experienced Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney Today!

If you or a loved one has been injured or died due to the negligence of another, the skilled Massachusetts wrongful death attorneys at Neumann Law Group may be able to help you recover the damages you deserve. Neumann Law Group serves Boston, Canton, Worcester, and other areas in Massachusetts. Schedule your free consultation today by calling (617) 918-7790 or use the contact form on this website.

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