Injured by the Wrong Medication? Here’s How to Pursue Compensation

When doctors and pharmacies give you the wrong medication, it can cause serious harm. Here’s how to get fair compensation for injuries caused by medication errors.

Preventable medication errors impact more than seven million patients annually, costing billions of dollars in damages. ¹

Adverse drug reactions can range from mild and temporary effects to serious, sometimes fatal reactions.

As many as 9,000 people die each year from medication errors. ²

Errors can happen anywhere along the patient-care timeline, from when the doctor prescribes a medication until the medication is given to the patient. Some prescription errors are simply accidents, while others are caused by medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one were harmed by taking the wrong medication, you might be entitled to financial compensation.

Medication Error Types and Causes

When it comes to medication errors, you or a family member can suffer from getting the wrong medication, the wrong information, or may even be harmed by the way medications are given in the hospital.

Some of the most common ways medication errors happen are:

Prescribing: The prescribing physician or physician’s assistant may prescribe the wrong medication, the wrong dosage for the patient, or a medication that may not be suitable because of allergies or other meds the patient is taking.

The doctor may order the wrong medication name because of similar spelling between different drugs, or may indicate the wrong dose or frequency. Physicians who still hand-write their orders may cause prescribing errors with sloppy writing.

Repackaging: Errors may be made at the pharmacy when taking medications from bulk packaging to smaller prescription bottles. The prescription bottles may be labeled with incorrect information or fail to include important warnings.

The pharmacists may erroneously take medication from the wrong stock bottle, with a similar-looking name.

Dispensing: Any discrepancy between the prescription and the medication delivered to the patient or their health facility is a dispensing error, including the wrong amount of medication, or poor quality of medication.

Dispensing errors can occur at your neighborhood pharmacy, at a nursing home, or in a hospital pharmacy. Hospital pharmacies dispense intravenous (IV) medications, including chemotherapy and anesthesia drugs that are often specially mixed as needed, as well as all kinds of pills, creams, ointments, and liquid medications.

Administering: Mistakes made in the way a medication is given can lead to severe complications for the patient. Administration errors account for more than 25 percent of all medication errors, and nurses make most drug administration errors in health care facilities.

Giving medication to the wrong patient, giving the right medication the wrong way (like crushing a pill that shouldn’t be crushed) or failing to give the medication on the prescribed schedule are all examples of administration errors.

Monitoring: Grave, potentially fatal errors occur when medications are prescribed or administered without proper monitoring.

For example, a common medication for heart failure patients should not be given if the patient’s heart rate falls below a specified rate. Likewise, patients on blood thinner medications should be monitored with lab tests to avoid excessive bleeding.

Transcription Errors: Doctors often dictate medical notes and prescription orders for individual patients. The medical orders may be transcribed (typed into a written form on paper or digitally) before it gets to the pharmacist. Hand-written orders may be typed into a computer at the pharmacy. Typing errors can lead to catastrophic results for the patient.

Case Summary: Jury Awards $140 Million for Medication Error

An Alabama jury ordered Thomas Hospital and the companies it used for medical transcription to pay $140 million in punitive damages for the wrongful death of Sharron Juno.

Sharron Juno was a 59-year-old diabetic who was discharged from Thomas Hospital and transferred to a rehab facility. Her doctor dictated her discharge summary, including medication orders for insulin.

What the doctor didn’t know was the hospital saved money by using transcription companies in India. The medication order for Juno was incorrectly transcribed, calling for 80 units of insulin, rather than eight.

The resulting overdose of insulin caused irreversible brain injury and cardiopulmonary arrest. Sharron Juno died days later.

Attorneys for Juno’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the hospital and its transcription contractors, winning a jury award of $140 million for the family.

Federal and State Medical Regulations

How medications are manufactured and used in the United States is generally governed by the Food and Drug Admiration (FDA). Federal guidelines are frequently updated and expanded in the interest of protecting public health.

Code of Federal Regulations – Title 21

This section sets out the minimum requirements to be included in state laws governing the storage and handling of prescription drugs, as well as the minimum requirements for drug distribution recordkeeping.

Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005

This patient safety act provides a way for doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals to report medical errors confidentially.

Information on medical errors is gathered into a government database to help identify where and how most medical errors happen, so better standards of care may be developed.

Medical errors reported under the act cannot be used for litigation or medical malpractice claims.

National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation Act of 2005

The MEDiC program provides for the confidential disclosure of medical errors. The program is intended to reduce preventable medical errors, and help victims of medical errors receive fair compensation.

Program participants are required to:

  • Use savings from the program to reduce malpractice insurance premiums and on activities to reduce medical errors
  • Report medical errors and malpractice lawsuits to a patient safety officer
  • Tell the patient about any medical error that resulted in harm
  • Offer to negotiate compensation with the patient and offer to provide an apology

State Laws and Medication Errors

Most medical professionals have been discouraged, if not forbidden, to admit to patients and families that a harmful error has occurred. For example, many malpractice insurance policies prohibit doctors or pharmacists from admitting liability.

Today, at least thirty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have “apology laws” that allow doctors to apologize and offer expressions of sympathy or condolences without fear of legal reprisal. The patients and their families cannot use the doctor’s apology as evidence in a malpractice lawsuit.

Those in favor of the “apology” statutes believe that allowing medical professionals to apologize will reduce medical liability claims and malpractice litigation.

Patients who are severely injured from medication errors may not have the luxury of settling for an apology. You always have the right to ask an attorney about the value of your case. 

Each state has different guidelines about a patient’s right to seek compensation, including statutes of limitations, shared liability, damage caps, and more.

Find your location on this Medical Malpractice Summary Index of States.

Consumer Reporting of Medication Errors

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing medication mistakes. Healthcare workers and consumers are encouraged to report medication and vaccine errors with as much detail as possible.

The ISMP collects and analyzes reports of medication dispensing errors and the injuries they cause, which are then reported to the manufacturers and dispensing pharmacies. The ISMP also works with government agencies to help identify medication dispensing errors, their causes, and ways to eliminate future errors.

Reporting a medication error to ISMP is not the same as filing a legal complaint, and will not help you get financial compensation.

Knowing Your Medications

Most patients don’t have close relationships with their local druggist like in the past. Except for a few independent businesses, most pharmacies are owned and operated by multi-billion-dollar corporations. Many pharmacies are open around the clock and seven days a week. There can be three or four different pharmacists working in the same pharmacy.

Today’s pharmacies are more like fast food restaurants. You can use the drive-through window to pick up prescriptions on your lunch hour. Unless you ask to speak with the pharmacist, it will be up to you to confirm the correct medication at the correct dosage.

Medications errors happen every day. You can help protect yourself by becoming familiar with the medications ordered by your physician, and what they look like. Never be afraid to ask your doctor or the pharmacist about your questions and concerns.

Ask about the medication’s purposes, side effects, allergic reactions, and how the new drug will mix with medications you are already taking. Because the size, shape, and color of medications seem to change daily, it’s a good idea to double-check if you pick up your prescription and the pills look different.

You can easily look up medications online to see clear color pictures with the shape, color, size, and any inscriptions on the tablets or capsules. If you have doubts, speak up.

Case Summary: $325,000 Paid for Prescription Error

Barbara Hall was a 67-year old patient who had been taking multiple prescription medications, including methadone. In June 2014, she picked up her monthly methadone refill from the Miller Pharmacy.

Four days later, Barbara Hall was dead.

About two weeks afterwards, Barbara’s husband, Gary Hall learned that pharmacist Stephen Herbst had mistakenly filled Barbara’s methadone prescription at twice the prescribed dose.

The medical error was caused by a technician who typed 10 mg into the pharmacy computer system instead of 5 mg. In turn, Herbst failed to notice the discrepancy between the written prescription and the computer record.

Attorneys for Gary Hall filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Stephen Herbst, who owned Miller Pharmacy.

The case was settled before trial for $325,000, just under the malpractice damages cap allowed in Wisconsin. Stephen Herbst was also reprimanded and fined by the state Pharmacy Examining Board.

Compensation for Medication Injuries

If you or a loved one are the victims of a medication error, seek medical help immediately. Your health and well-being are most important.

You may have the right to file a civil action against the negligent doctor or pharmacy who gave you the wrong medication. Even a minor injury like nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or other temporary reaction may be actionable, depending on the circumstances.

Medication errors may be caused by any medical care provider, such as the doctor, nurse, pharmacist, a hospital or other type of medical facility.

To win a malpractice lawsuit for a medication or prescription error, you and your attorney must prove the medical provider:

  1. Had a duty of care not to injure you
  2. Breached their duty of care by negligently failing to meet the medical standard of care
  3. Their negligence was the direct and proximate cause of your injury
  4. Your injury resulted in compensable damages

Damages might include hospital bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Not every bad reaction to a medication is grounds for medical malpractice. If you had no history of allergies and have a severe allergic reaction to a new prescription for an antibiotic, you won’t be able to blame the doctor or pharmacist.

If there was an error made with your medication, and you caught the mistake before taking the medication, or you suffered minor and temporary ill effects with no measurable damages, it may not be worth your time and effort to file a lawsuit. It’s very hard to win compensation based solely on a day or two of discomfort at home.

Whether or not you decide to take legal action for a medication error, you can still report the negligent doctor or pharmacist to their licensing authorities.

Contact your State Medical Board to file a complaint about medication errors.

When You Need an Attorney

Pharmacists, doctors, hospitals and even nurses are protected by malpractice insurance companies who stop at nothing to deny the serious harm caused by their client’s errors.

These companies know that medication errors can lead to malpractice awards worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims like you.

It takes an experienced personal injury attorney, specializing in medical malpractice, to win high-dollar court verdicts.

Winning a malpractice lawsuit for prescription errors can be complicated and expensive. Choose an attorney who will advance the funds needed to hire medical experts, cover the cost of record reviews, pay court fees, and anything else needed to prepare for trial.

Successful malpractice attorneys usually don’t charge for the initial consultation and will represent clients like you on a contingency fee basis, meaning their fees won’t get paid until they settle your case or win at trial.

Get the compensation you deserve. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled malpractice attorney can do for you and your family.

Wrong Medication Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>