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Walter v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court
748 A.2d 961 (2000)


Facts

When 80-year-old Antoinette Walter (plaintiff) was diagnosed with cancer, her oncologist, Stephen Ross, prescribed Chlorambucil, a generic chemotherapy drug with the brand name Leukeran. Walter had the prescription filled at a Wal-Mart store in Maine. The pharmacist, Henry Lovin, did not fill Walter’s prescription with Chlorambucil or Leukeran, but rather with Melphalen, a far stronger chemotherapy drug. Because of its strength and detrimental effects, Melphalen was prescribed in smaller doses, for shorter periods, than Chlorambucil. Lovin did not counsel Walter about Melphalen, but she was provided an information sheet on the drug. After taking the dosage prescribed by Ross, Walter began to experience nausea, bruising, and rashes. She waited a few days to contact Ross even though the information sheet advised contacting a physician if the patient experienced bruising or rashes. Ross instructed her to stop the medication. That same day, she was hospitalized for gastrointestinal bleeding. In the hospital for five weeks, Walter had several infections, was unable to eat, and experienced other problems associated with a weakened immune system. When she left the hospital, she was considerably weaker and suffering from depression. The Melphalen did put her cancer into remission, however. Walter’s medical bills amounted to $71,042.63. She sued Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (defendant) for malpractice. At trial, Lovin testified that by dispensing the wrong drug without undergoing appropriate checks and without speaking directly with Walter, he had failed to meet the standard of care for pharmacists. Lovin also testified that Walter had no reason to doubt that she had received the correct drug. At the close of Walter’s case, the judge granted her judgment as a matter of law; a jury awarded her $550,000. Wal-Mart appealed.

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Calkins, J.)

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Concurrence (Wathan, J.)

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