Chemist is answerable for mistaken medicine

Pushpa Girimaji

Last fortnight, I purchased some medicines for my daughter from my neighbourhood chemist. However, following an adverse reaction, the doctor checked up the medicines and found one of them to be of much higher strength, dangerously so, than what he had prescribed. My daughter is much better now, but I want to hold the chemist accountable. He blames it on the unusually high number of customers coming to his shop on account of Covid-19. Can he use that as an excuse to escape liability?

On account of the exponential increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, the drug stores are as crowded as the hospitals, but that cannot be an excuse for selling wrong medication. Given the nature of his work, a pharmacist must exhibit utmost responsibility while dispensing medicines and ensure that what is sold is exactly what is prescribed. Failure to do so is negligence.

If he is unable to handle the customer rush, the chemist should employ more people. He cannot escape liability for his carelessness by pointing at the crowd. Having said that, I would urge all consumers to be extremely careful while purchasing medicines and before consuming them. Consumers should also insist on the doctor mentioning the generic name to avoid prescription errors. Remember, wrong medication can kill.

I recall that in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration authorities in Maharashtra had cancelled the licence of a Mumbai chemist for causing the death of a senior citizen by selling the wrong medicine. Instead of Folimax 10, prescribed for anaemia, the chemist had sold him Folitrax 10 mg.

Are there any decided cases of consumer courts awarding compensation for the sale of wrong drugs?

Consumer courts have awarded compensation in a number of such cases of negligence. In Ashok Kumar Vs M/S Kumar Brothers (Chemists) Pvt Ltd, for example, the consumer court directed the chemist to pay a compensation of Rs50,000 and costs of Rs10,000 to a consumer who had suffered on account of such carelessness on the part of the chemist.

Here, the doctor had recommended Metolar XR 50 mg on July 20, 2017. However, the chemist gave Gluformin XL 500 mg, a medication for diabetes. Since the consumer was not diabetic, his sugar levels dropped following consumption of the medicine and, on July 24, 2017, he had to be rushed to the hospital in a semi-conscious state.

When Kumar was informed by his doctors that his ill-health was caused by the wrong drug handed over by the chemist and that any delay on his part in seeking medical help could well have cost his life, Kumar confronted the chemist and eventually filed a complaint before the consumer court. The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum-I, UT of Chandigarh, held the chemist guilty of negligence. (CC No CC/281/2018, decided on October 23, 2018)

In Chetan D’Souza Vs Dial for Health Ltd, the complaint dating back to July 13, 2012, was about the chemist selling expired medicines. The Central Mumbai District Consumer Forum, in its order of October 7, 2014, directed the chemist to pay Rs25,000 as compensation and Rs5,000 as costs.

When you present your prescription to the chemist, he may well offer you a substitute saying that the particular brand suggested by the doctor is unavailable. However, when he does that, he must ensure that the substitute is identical to what is prescribed by the doctor. Failure to do so is also negligence.

One such case of negligence came up before the Additional District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Nagpur. According to media reports, the Forum awarded a compensation of Rs1.15 lakh to a woman who suffered damage to her facial skin following substitution, by the chemist, of the cream for acne prescribed by her doctor.

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