Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Pharmacy errors frequently occur in retail pharmacies in Maryland and throughout the country. These errors are recognized as common, and experts are always coming up with new ways to reduce them. However, Maryland pharmacy errors involving mail-order prescriptions are infrequently discussed and they raise the very same concerns as retail pharmacy errors. Without having to hand a prescription to a patient in person, a prescription can be addressed and mailed to the wrong person. In a recent federal appeals court decision, the court held that the pharmacy may still be held liable in the case of an elderly patient who failed to read the labels on the medication bottles before taking the medications.

In that case, the mother was mistakenly mailed prescription medications by a mail-order pharmacy contractor. A pharmacy put in an order for prescriptions to be sent to a customer, but the contractor mistakenly shipped the package to the plaintiff’s mother. She regularly received medications by mail, and the package at issue was similar to other packages she had received. The outside of the package had the mother’s name and address, but the bottles of medication listed the other patient’s name, doctor, and medication. The mother was elderly and “barely literate,” and did not read the labels before she took the pills.

After taking the pills, the mother started to experience hallucinations and confusion. She fell and fractured her leg a few days later. She was hospitalized for the fracture, and stayed in the hospital for almost a month. She was treated for other medical issues that arose during her stay, and she died about ten days after she was discharged from the hospital.

People who have family members in Maryland nursing homes should closely monitor the health of their loved ones. While many nursing homes offer quality care that is provided by compassionate and caring staff members, that is not always the case. Too often, nursing home management tries to cut corners on staffing costs by keeping the number of nurses and other employees at a minimum.

Not only does this mean that there are fewer staff members to help care for residents, but it also places a heightened burden on employees. In turn, this increases the chance that staff members will forget to give a staff member mediation or provide them with the wrong medication when they are in a hurry to move on to another task.

According to a local news article, a nursing home recently agreed to pay the family of a resident who died while in the facility’s care $11 million after reports emerged that the home failed to provide the resident with necessary antibiotic medication. Evidently, the wife of the deceased resident received a letter in the mail six weeks after her husband’s passing, explaining that “there is some information that was not shared with you in regards to the death of your husband.”

This blog has covered a number of the common causes of Maryland pharmacy errors in hopes of increasing patient awareness. One common cause of pharmacy errors that has not recently been discussed is when a patient’s prescription is filled multiple times.

Most often, these errors are the results of two different pharmacies each filling a prescription and providing it to the patient. These errors are more common in mail-order pharmacies than in retail pharmacies. More often than not, these errors involve elderly patients that are prescribed multiple medications and may have a difficult time reading or understanding the numerous directions they should follow.

Patient Dies after Taking Twice the Number of Pills That Were Prescribed by His Physician

Back in 2016, an older man died from what appeared to be a medication overdose. According to a local news report covering the tragic accident, the man was prescribed medication to control his heart, liver, and anxiety-related conditions. The medications were provided to the patient in blister packs containing 108 pills each. The patient’s prescription was supposed to include a total of four blister packs.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by the parents of an 18-year-old man who died of an illegal drug overdose while at the defendant’s residence. The case presents interesting issues that may arise in Maryland personal injury cases in that it illustrates the well-known dangers of illegal drugs as well as touches on the theory of premises liability as it pertains to drug use in a defendant’s home.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a young man who died of an illegal overdose of illegally obtained drugs. The evidence presented at trial showed that the victim met up with one of the tenants who lived in the defendant’s home, purchased ketamine and acid, and brought the drugs back to the defendant’s home.

The facts were somewhat disputed, but it was uncontested that several people, including the plaintiffs’ son, took the ketamine. Within minutes, the plaintiffs’ son began acting odd, and he was told to leave by the tenants. The young man was found dead later that day. The cause of death was determined to be an overdose of ketamine.

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Prescription drugs can be dangerous. Indeed, that is exactly why the government does not allow for them to be purchased over-the-counter and requires that a patient be prescribed the medication by a physician and then must pick up the medication at a pharmacy. The intent of creating a system like this one is that there are several lines of defense against a patient taking a medication that could be harmful to their health.

However, sometimes pharmacists make mistakes. The seriousness of pharmacy errors varies, but in many cases long-term and irreversible damage is caused by taking a non-prescribed medication. In other cases, a patient may die because of the side effects they experience from the prescribed drug or from the body’s reaction to not getting the medicine that they were prescribed. In these cases, the victim’s family may be able to pursue a case against the responsible pharmacist through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation for the loss of a loved one due to a negligent action of another party. These cases are brought on behalf of the deceased, usually by a family member of the victim. In fact, one of the requirements of a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit is that it be brought by the proper party. Here in Maryland, that means that the lawsuit must be filed by a spouse, parent, or child of the deceased, if one exists. This category of people is called primary beneficiaries. If no primary beneficiary exists, then a secondary beneficiary may file the lawsuit. Establishing who qualifies as a secondary beneficiary can be tricky, but generally speaking that person must be related to the deceased by blood or marriage, and must have relied on the deceased for financial support.

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In order to recover damages for injuries caused by a pharmacy error, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached a duty of care that it owed to the injured person. A state appellate court ruled that the husband of a nursing home patient who died due to a medication error could not recover damages from a third-party pharmacy services company or the consulting pharmacist. Thompson v. Potter, 268 P.3d 57 (N.M. App. 2011). The patient’s death, according to the plaintiff’s complaint, was caused by a nurse’s transcription error that resulted in an incorrect medication dose. The court held that the defendants had no authority or control over the nurse, and that they therefore did not breach a duty of care directly to the decedent. With no duty of care, they could not be held liable for negligence or malpractice.

The patient was admitted to a long-term nursing care facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico in February 2004. Her doctor diagnosed her with early dementia and prescribed Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication, to manage her agitation and prevent seizures associated with dementia. The doctor instructed the staff to administer Ativan three times a day and on an as-needed (“PRN”) basis. On January 10, 2005, the doctor told a nurse to discontinue the PRN dose. The nurse transcribed the doctor’s order incorrectly, resulting in written instructions to discontinue the three-times-a-day Ativan dose. The patient missed twenty-one regular doses, suffered a grand mal seizure and a fractured hip on January 17, and later died.

The patient’s husband sued the company contracted by the nursing home to provide pharmacy services and its registered pharmacist, asserting causes of action for breach of contract, negligence, and negligence per se. He did not sue the nursing home, the doctor who prescribed Ativan and changed the dose instructions, or the nurse who made the transcription error. The plaintiff alleged that the sudden withdrawal of Ativan caused his wife’s seizure, and that the injuries sustained due to the seizure caused her death. The defendants breached a duty of care in their capacity as providers of pharmacy services, the plaintiff claimed. The trial court granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment on all of the plaintiff’s claims.

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A pharmacist may offer expert testimony in a wrongful death lawsuit regarding a physician’s alleged failure to obtain a patient’s informed consent, according to a ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Fusco v. Shannon, 63 A.3d 145 (Md. Spec. App. 2013). The trial court excluded testimony from the plaintiffs’ expert witness, a pharmacist, holding that he was not qualified to offer an opinion on a physician’s professional duties. The case went to trial without the pharmacist’s testimony, and the jury found in favor of the defendants. The appellate court reversed the judgment and remanded the case to the trial court.

The decedent, Anthony Fusco, Sr., was eighty-two years old when he received a diagnosis of “low-risk” prostate cancer in 2001. By early 2003, he and his doctor decided to begin a course of treatment that included radiotherapy. He met with a doctor who explained the nature and risks of radiation treatments, including possible inflammation of surrounding organs. The doctor referred him to Dr. Shannon to prescribe a protectant medication to reduce the risk of radiation damage. Dr. Shannon prescribed Amifostine, and would later claim that he explained the risks associated with the drug, such as nausea, skin reactions, and blood pressure issues.

The Amifostine treatments began in April 2003 and continued for about a month. He received twenty-three injections, seemingly without incident, but on May 17, 2003, the day after receiving his twenty-fourth dose, Mr. Fusco was hospitalized with a severe skin reaction. He was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare but serious skin condition, which Dr. Shannon suggested was a reaction to the Amifosine. After several hospitalizations, Mr. Fusco died of a stroke allegedly resulting from Stevens-Johnson on December 4, 2003.

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Federal investigators and prosecutors in Indiana believe that four doctors at various medical center locations may be responsible for having caused as many as 27 deaths.

The individuals who died were all patients at a group of clinics in the area. Two of the doctors accused of causing the deaths are also the co-owners of the locations. The charges include various drug and conspiracy charges. A federal Drug Enforcement Agency investigation filed some 95 felony charges against nine employees, which included the two doctor owners.

According to an affidavit, the clinic was known as a go to place for individuals seeking access to prescription medications. According to some individuals, it was sometimes referred to as “the candy shop.”

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A Harford County jury recently awarded nearly $1 million to the estate and surviving family members of a woman who allegedly received excessive pain medication following a leg ulcer surgery.

According to reports regarding the case, the plaintiffs alleged that the doctors at the Harford County Hospital administered morphine, oxycodone, and other narcotics to the woman under the mistaken belief that they had received permission to provide palliative care to the woman, rather than attempting to strive for the woman’s full recovery. The hospital reportedly denies the allegations of negligence, and plans to appeal the judgment.

While only very limited factual information was reported regarding this case, it seems that the family is alleging that the hospital administered a form of unauthorized palliative care, which resulted in the death of the patient. Palliative care is distinct from assisted suicide, and as such is protected by U.S. Supreme Court case law. Essentially, it occurs when caregivers can no longer perform additional or helpful medical procedures to improve the patient’s prognosis, so they instead focus on alleviating the pain as best as they can. Oftentimes, these high levels of pain medications can lead to death.

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A woman’s lawsuit against the federal government alleges that incorrect diagnoses and incorrect dosages certain medications caused her sister’s suicide in 2010. The plaintiff in Grese v. United States is demanding $5 million in damages, claiming that doctors and other medical professionals with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) breached various professional standards of care by continuing to prescribe medications known to have harmful side effects after the decedent had already attempted suicide, and then by dispensing an excessive amount of a particular antipsychotic drug.

The decedent, Kelli Grese, committed suicide on November 12, 2010 by swallowing a large amount of the antipsychotic medication Seroquel. A few weeks before her death, according to the plaintiff’s complaint, doctors had increased her supply of the medication from thirty days to sixty days, and she almost immediately obtained a sixty-day supply. This gave her enough Seroquel to last 120 days under the earlier prescription, and it allegedly enabled her to commit suicide.

According to the Hampton Roads Daily Press, Grese was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1997, and she began receiving treatment at the Hampton VA Medical Center during the 1990’s, with treatment for mental health issues beginning in 2008. She had diagnoses for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, and attention-deficit disorder (ADD). The VA hospital treated her with counseling and medication. She received a diagnosis of severe depression in March 2009 after admission to a psychiatric hospital, with a designation as a suicide risk. She reportedly also suffered from paranoid delusions, recurrent psychosis, and major depressive disorder. After her discharge from the psychiatric hospital, the complaint alleges, the VA continued her existing treatment plan despite “obvious and clear deterioration in her psychological functioning.” Complaint at 4.

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