Walgreens Swallows $25.8M Pill in Wrongful Death Suit

Five years ago, the family of cancer patient Beth Hippely began to prepare itself for the worst to happen. However, at the time, they had no idea how it would come about. And now, they hope a costly mistake by a pharmacy employee can be in some way rectified by a Florida jury verdict that awarded $25.8 million to the surviving family.

The mother of three children, Beth Hippely was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. At the time, she was in her early 40s, and the prognosis was positive. According to newspaper accounts of the trial reports, doctors gave her an 88 percent chance of surviving the cancer. Doctors began chemotherapy treatment and prescribed a blood thinner called warfarin as part of a medication regimen designed to eradicate the cancer and help her life return to normal.

Hippely took the prescription to a Walgreens pharmacy. As it turned out, her prescription was filled by a new employee, a 19-year-old woman who had not been fully trained. As a result, the prescription was filled for 10 times the amount prescribed by Hippely's doctor. The pharmacist responsible for verifying the prescription did not learn of the error until three years later, too late to change the outcome of the mistake.

The excessive dosage caused a cerebral hemorrhage and led to Hippely's untimely death in January 2007, at the age of 46.

The jury found Walgreens guilty of negligent breach of duty and wrongful death. They found that both the pharmacy and the employee, Elizabeth Partlow, caused Hippely permanent bodily injury, disability and physical pain through the misfiling error. The total amount of $25.8 million was awarded to husband Deane Hippely and their children.

This isn't the first time Walgreens and their pharmacists have been under fire for mistakes leading to death. Only last year, Walgreens was ordered to pay $31 million to a Schaumburg, Illinois man when a pharmacist gave him the wrong prescription while under the influence of drugs from the Walgreens supply. In that case, the victim received an insulin pill instead of a pill for gout, which reduced his blood-sugar levels and put him into a coma. He died 22 months later.

Carol Hively, a spokesman for Walgreens, offered these words in a public statement to the Hippely family: "We're truly sorry for what the Hippely family has been through, and we've personally apologized to them. We have been, and continue to be, the leader in pharmacy safety initiatives. We had hoped the verdict would have been fair and reasonable."

However, the words "fair" and "reasonable" are ones that the Hippely family certainly hasn't been able to understand for the past several years. Not even $25.8 million can change that.

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