Pharmacy Owed Duty to Not Fill Prescriptions for Too Many Pills in Too Short Time

A man’s doctor diagnosed him with anxiety. The doctor prescribed Xanax (Alprazolam) and Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen or Oxycodone/ Acetaminophen. Over the next twenty-two months, the doctor repeatedly prescribed these drugs before the man should have depleted the preceding prescriptions. A pharmacy filled at least thirty of these prescriptions, all written by the same doctor, without question, even though the prescriptions were issued too closely in time before the man should have exhausted the preceding prescription. Twenty-two months after the initial prescription, the man died due to combined drug intoxication of Alprazolam and Hydrocodone.


The man’s mother sued the pharmacy and the pharmacy's owner, a licensed pharmacist. The complaint alleged that the pharmacy and the pharmacy’s owner owed the man a duty to (1) use due and proper care in filling and dispensing all prescriptions; (2) exercise the level of care and skill recognized by reasonably prudent and similar pharmacy professionals; (3) not dispense or fill prescriptions that were unreasonable on their face or in light of the circumstances; (4) warn, under the circumstances; (5) comply with their own relevant policies and procedures; (6) comply with relevant statutory and regulatory provisions; and (7) not subject the man to an unreasonable risk of harm from their foreseeable conduct.


The pharmacy and its owner filed a motion to dismiss. The motion argued that there was no duty to the man other than properly filling his valid and lawful prescriptions.


The Circuit Court for Volusia County dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The trial court held that the pharmacy and its owner owed no actionable duty to the man under the facts alleged.


The Fifth District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed. The court held that the pharmacy and its owner owned a duty to the man.


The pharmacy and its owner owed a duty of reasonable care to the man. The court held that, generally, pharmacies owe customers a duty of reasonable care. Pharmacists were required to exercise that degree of care that an ordinarily prudent pharmacist would under the same or similar circumstances. A pharmacist's duty to use due and proper care in filling a prescription extended beyond simply following the prescribing physician's directions. The court noted that here the pharmacy filled, without question, numerous prescriptions that were so close together that the pharmacy should have been put on notice that the man was getting too many pills within too short a period. The prescriptions at issue here were alleged to be unreasonable on their face because they were written in a quantity, frequency, dosage, or combination that a reasonable pharmacist would either have checked with the prescribing doctor or warned the patient.


The Fifth District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint with prejudice.


See: Oleckna v. Daytona Discount Pharmacy, 2015 WL 477841 (Fla.App. 5 Dist., February 6, 2015) (not designated for publication).


See also Medical Law Perspectives, January 2014 Report: Prescription Painkillers: Risks for Patients, Pharmacists, and Physicians


See also Medical Law Perspectives, May 2013 Report: Drugs, Dosage, and Damage: Physician Liability for Prescribing or Administering Medication