Virginia Law Makes Pharmacists, Pharmacies Responsible for Pharmacy Technicians’ Errors | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Of all the forms of medical malpractice that harm patients in Virginia, prescription errors may be the most common. Administering the wrong drug to the wrong patient or administering the wrong dose induces what health care providers call adverse drug events, and what everyone else calls side effects.


Whatever terminology you choose, it has to give you pause to realize that the federal Agency for Healthcare Research Quality estimates that “ADEs account for nearly 700,000 emergency department visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year.”

Medication errors have many causes. A doctor, dentist or nurse practitioner may prescribe a drug that will harm the patient. The patient may fail to follow the instructions for taking the drug. Most problematic of all, the pharmacist and pharmacy technicians at the local pharmacy may fail to meet their duties to properly fill and dispense a prescription order.

Errors in that final group are completely preventable. When they occur, the patient who ends up in the ER, admitted to the hospital or dead has an undeniable legal right to hire a Virginia medical malpractice attorney and sue for compensation or damages. Of course, the family of a deceased patient must sue on the victim’s behalf.

The Pharmacist’s Duty to Supervise Technicians

A patient who goes into their local pharmacy deals primarily with pharmacy technicians. These paraprofessionals do most of the actual work involved in filling prescription orders, from counting out tablets to printing labels and taking payments. Many pharmacy technicians also do compounding, which is the process by which one or more medications is combined or transformed from a solid dosage into a liquid one.

Under the laws of Virginia, every action taken by a pharmacy technician must be supervised, checked and approved by a licensed pharmacist. The relevant parts of section 18VAC110-20-270 of the Administrative Code state:

  • A pharmacist shall provide personal supervision of compounding of extemporaneous preparations by pharmacy technicians.
  • No pharmacist shall supervise more than four persons acting as pharmacy technicians at one time.
  • After the prescription has been prepared and prior to the delivery of the order, a pharmacist shall inspect the prescription product to verify its accuracy in all respects, and place his initials on the record of dispensing as a certification of the accuracy of, and the responsibility for, the entire transaction.

This statutory language creates strict liability for the pharmacist when a technician under his or her supervision makes a mistake that harms a patient. Proving that the error occurred obligates the pharmacist to settle a lawsuit or pay a jury award.

A Virginia medical malpractice attorney will also look into whether the pharmacy chain that hired the pharmacist acted negligently in ways that put a patient at risk. For instance, did the company hire a pharmacist who had lost his or her license or make the pharmacist work with more than four technicians at one time.

How to Know if a Pharmacy Technician Made an Error

Every prescription order constitutes a paper trail. Often, proving that a pharmacy technician or pharmacist filled and dispensed a prescription in error is as simple as obtaining the original order from the doctor, dentist or nurse. Compare that original with what the patient received, and the case for demanding compensation and damages is made.

It is also essential to show that the patient suffered significant harm from being giving the wrong drug or wrong dose. Records of ER visits, hospital stays and follow up care are essential pieces of evidence for a Virginia medical malpractice case.