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Dispensing Error Cases against Pharmacies & Pharmacists (Ontario)

It’s not uncommon for pharmacies and pharmacists to make dispensing errors. Dispensing errors can get people very sick, cause prolonged disabilities, or even cause death. They are to be taken quite seriously.

What is a dispensing error?

In Ontario, you receive prescription mediation outside of a hospital setting from a licensed pharmacy/pharmacist. This means that you don’t go to the corner store to buy prescription medication from a random corner store owner.

A dispensing error occurs when a pharmacy/pharmacist dispenses the wrong medication to a patient. Or, dispenses the right mediation, but the wrong dosage of that medication.

Taking the wrong medication, or too much, or too little of the right medication can make people very sick and cause serious injuries.

What happens once a dispensing error has been committed?

The first thing you should do go to the hospital right away and seek medical attention. Getting treatment right away is very important given that some dispensing errors need to be treated right away, such as Methadone overdoses.

Once the dust has settled, you should contact the pharmacy which committed the dispensing error to notify them that such an error has taken place.

In addition, you should file a complaint with the Ontario College of Pharmacists. The Ontario College of Pharmacists is the regulatory body which oversees all pharmacists in the Province. The Ontario College of Pharmacists will launch an investigation into what happened. They may have a hearing (written or in person) in order to determine if there was any wrongdoing by the pharmacist. If there was some form of misconduct, the College would also determine if any sort of penalty is appropriate. Many penalties which our law firm has seen come in the form of “cautions” whereby the pharmacist is cautioned not to breach the standard of care again. This means that they are still allowed to practice, but there is a caution on their record. The penalties become that much more severe when the pharmacist is a repeat offender, meaning that they have a lengthy disciplinary record. In the vast majority of cases which we have seen, dispensing errors are not intentional. They are attributable to human error, under staffed, over worked, too busy, or inadequate supervision by a knowledgeable pharmacist on over his/her inexperienced assistants/students.linkedin-2-300x300

It’s important for patients to make these complaints after a dispensing error for a variety of reasons. For starters, the College investigation will reveal a lot of what went down behind the scenes leading to the dispensing error itself. Your personal injury lawyer will not be able to get this sort of information because the pharmacist is required to cooperate with the College’s demands. Whereas the pharmacist does not necessarily need to cooperate with your personal injury lawyer’s requests for information. There will be a lot of admissions/omissions/and information which arise from the College which your lawyer will be able to use, one way or another, in order to support your case moving forward.

From a wider angle lens, you don’t want what happened to you, to happen to somebody else. Your complaint will trigger a process to let the pharmacist know that what s/he did was not ok. Your complaint itself will serve as deterrence and a caution for the pharmacist that moving forward, they need to be more careful in what they do because their actions/negligence have a big impact on the health and safety of the community which they serve. If not enough people speak act, or act on on dispensing errors, it only provides license for certain pharmacists to continue their practices which fall below the standard of care. From a public safety perspective, we all need to strive for upholding high standards of dispensing medication in a safe and proper manner.

The complaining patient who has suffered a loss will NOT receive any financial compensation from the complaint process through the Ontario College of Pharmacists. That forum is NOT about compensation or restitution. Instead, the complainant will need to retain a personal injury lawyer to bring a civil claim against the pharmacy/pharmacist. The civil courts are the forum for getting compensation for the party who has sustained an injury or a loss as a result of the dispensing error. So, don’t expect MONEY from the complaint process. That forum is about getting things right moving forward, and disciplining the pharmacy/pharmacist who has done wrong.

How long do dispensing error cases take to settle?

A dispensing error case is considered to be a personal injury case. And, like most personal injury cases, they take time to close. It can take a number of years for these cases to settle. The faster the injuries heal/plateau; and the less complicated those injuries, the greater chance that the case will settle sooner rather than later. The reverse is also true. The longer the injuries last, and the more significant those injuries, chances are that the case will take longer to settle. In addition, if the Ontario College of Pharmacists found that the pharmacy/pharmacist did not breach the standard of care, the case will be made more difficult. The insurer for the pharmacy/pharmacist will not accept or admit liability where their own College has found that they did not commit any wrongs or depart from the standard of care of a reasonable pharmacist in like circumstances.

How Long Do I have to retain a Personal Injury Lawyer and Sue?

Like all personal injury cases, you have 2 years from the date of loss to bring a claim; or 2 years from the date which you reasonably knew or ought to have known you have a cause of action. Ultimately, it would be up to a Judge to decide on whether or not the claim was brought within the 2 year limitation period. Sometimes, these dispensing error cases are subject to interpretation.  Take the case of a person taking multiple medication at the same time following a surgery (5 pills or so). This is not uncommon. One of those pills was the wrong one and caused a very negative reaction. The doctor(s) only discovered  that one of the pills was the wrong one a year or so down the road after the complications were better investigated. When does the limitation period begin? The insurer for the pharmacist would likely argue that it began at its earliest point, at the time the medication was first dispensed. The Plaintiff will argue the opposite, that the limitation period only begins to run when the Plaintiff found out that one of the medications prescribed was the wrong one after the doctor found out and told him so.


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