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Pharmacists' Defenses to Negligence Lawsuits

Pharmacists have a duty to store, prepare, and dispense prescription drugs properly. If the dispensing pharmacist fails to perform any of these duties, the patient could have a claim against the pharmacist. If the pharmacist's actions caused the injuries, he/she could be held liable for the patient's drug-related injuries. This article examines the defenses that are available to a pharmacist if a patient files a negligence lawsuit against the dispensing pharmacist.

Lack of Causation
In order to recover damages in a lawsuit based on negligence, a patient must prove the pharmacist's negligent act directly and proximately caused the patient's injury. A pharmacist might argue that the drug or the dosage of the drug taken by the patient could not have caused the injury. The pharmacist might also argue that even if his/her action was negligent, the patient's injury was not foreseeable or predictable and therefore was not the proximate or legal cause of the injury. If the patient is unable to prove that the pharmacist's action caused the injury, the lawsuit will fail.

Patient's Negligence
Another possible defense available to a pharmacist is that the patient's negligence also caused the injury. The courts use a comparative negligence standard in evaluating negligence claims of this type. If both the patient and the pharmacist were negligent, liability would be apportioned between the two. The award of damages would be reduced by the patient's proportion of liability. For example, if a court found that the pharmacist was 80 percent negligent in causing the injury and the patient was 20 percent negligent, the damage award would be reduced by 20 percent. In a few states, any negligence on the part of the patient bars recovery.

Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are laws that limit the time a person has to file a lawsuit after an injury occurs. If a lawsuit is not filed within the applicable time period, it is barred. Some states, such as Ohio, treat such claims as negligence claims. Other states, such as Michigan, consider claims against a pharmacist as malpractice claims. The statute of limitations for malpractice claims is typically shorter (one year) than the statute of limitations for negligence claims (two years). In lawsuits against pharmacists, it can sometimes be difficult to determine when the statute of limitations period begins to run. There are several possibilities. Some courts hold that the time period begins to run when the pharmacist performed the wrongful act. Others measure the time period from the date the injury occurred or from the time the patient discovered the cause of the injury. If the patient's action is not filed within the statutory time period, there can be no recovery.