Walmart Pharmacist May Be Liable for Punitive Damages, Court Rules

By Michael Zerres

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey has denied a request from Wal-mart pharmacist and Wal-mart itself to dismiss a plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the plaintiff alleging that the pharmacist filled a prescription in error. In Horn v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113867. Wal-mart’s request for Partial Summary Judgment in their favor and against the plaintiff on the plaintiff’s request for punitive damages was denied. In so doing, the Court acknowledged that punitive damages are available to plaintiffs when the defendant acts with a “wanton and willful disregard” for the rights of a plaintiff, that is, with a reckless indifference to the consequences of his actions.

Here, Mr. Horn went to Wal-mart to have a prescription for Coumadin, a blood-thinner, filled. However, the pharmacist attached a label to the bottle of medication which instructed the plaintiff to take the medication in a dosage three times greater than was prescribed, which he did – resulting in the patient suffering a stroke with permanent consequences.

The pharmacist, Arnold Beilin, testified he was: aware excess dosages of medication could cause harm; that Coumadin was a medication where even a small dosage error can cause serious harm to a patient; that he did not know the safe loading dose of Coumadin and that the lack of that knowledge put the patient at a risk for harm; that he over-road the store’s computer program warning that instructed him to check with physician to verify the correct dosage of the medication; and, that after rover-riding the store computer’s warning system, he dispensed the medication to Mr. Horn. Under these circumstances, the Court stated, a reasonable jury could find that Wal-mart pharmacist acted with a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of plaintiff, and, is permitting the plaintiff to go to proceed to trial on both his punitive damages and his general damages claims.