Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

The family of a south Florida man has filed a lawsuit against North Shore Medical Center in Miami. The man, 79 year-old Richard Smith, died in July 2010 when he went to the hospital complaining of shortness of breath and received the wrong medication. The nurse who administered the allegedly fatal dosage received disciplinary sanctions and paid a fine, which the family does not find satisfactory.

Smith told doctors he had shortness of breath and an upset stomach. His treating physician ordered Pepcid, an antacid available over the counter. The ICU nurse instead took a vial of Pancuronium from a locked cart and put it in Smith’s IV. Pancuronium is a muscle relaxant used by the ICU when intubating a patient. In larger doses, it is used by the Florida prison system in executions as part of a three-drug cocktail. The drug does not affect consciousness, but does significantly impair motor functions. At high enough doses, a person would not be able to breathe.

According to hospital records, no one noticed Smith’s condition for thirty minutes. When hospital staff finally recognized the problem, Smith’s heart had stopped. Resuscitation efforts did not succeed in reviving him. An investigation by the state found that the nurse on duty not only failed to read the label on the medication, but failed to scan both the drug label and Smith’s patient ID bracelet. These would have alerted the nurse to the problem. Another report indicated that the nurse did not follow safeguards established for the drug cart containing the Pancuronium. The state cited the hospital for this failure. The hospital has reportedly removed Pancuronium from most nursing areas in the hospital and created a new packaging system with clearer warnings.

According to local news covering the story, the nurse still works at North Shore. He reportedly received a reprimand, paid a $2,800 fine to the state, and attended remediation courses. The hospital described this as appropriate counseling and re-training. Smith’s family disagrees, saying through their attorney that the nurse should not still be permitted to work with patients. This Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog has previously reported on cases where medication errors causing death have led to criminal convictions for involuntary manslaughter. In this instance, the consequences apparently end at professional discipline.

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A six-month-old child died in a Brooklyn hospital on October 25, 2011 after receiving an incorrect dosage of intravenous antibiotics. An investigation determined the overdose to be an accident, but the child’s family is reportedly weighing their legal options regarding claims against the hospital. Amaan Ahmmad’s family brought him to the hospital for a fever of around 100 degrees. Hospital records suggest the child was otherwise “alert and responsive.” After an examination, the child reportedly received a diagnosis of clinical pneumonia. No beds were available at the time, so hospital staff hooked Amaan up, while in his stroller, to an IV for the antibiotic Zithromax, known generically as azithromycin. An appropriate dose for an infant is around 80 milligrams, but the nurse setting up the IV reportedly gave him 500 milligrams. This is an appropriate dosage for an adult, not a 17-pound infant.

After receiving the antibiotic, the child immediately fell into a coma. Hospital records indicate that hospital staff did not notice anything wrong for about thirty-six minutes. The child’s mother told the media that she tried to tell hospital staff something was wrong, but they assured her the child was just sleeping. Once they realized the mistake, hospital staff put the child on life support, but it was apparently too late. After less than 24 hours, the child was removed from life support and pronounced dead.

One day after Amaan’s death, the New York City Medical Examiner ruled his death an accident, identifying complications following an adult dose of azithromycin as the cause of death. According to family members of the child, the hospital fired the nurse who administered the lethal dosage of antibiotics. The hospital reportedly expressed condolences to Amaan’s family but declined to comment to the media. The family told reporters that they are considering their legal options. They laid Amaan to rest on October 27.

This Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog has previously reported on efforts in some Maryland hospitals to catalogue pharmacy errors in the hopes of preventing future catastrophic mistakes. At this time, not enough information is available to determine how the medication error in Brooklyn occurred. The child clearly received an extremely excessive dose of the antibiotic. The error could have occurred in the pharmacy, at the point of administration of the drug, or at any point in between. A combination of errors could have contributed to the tragic outcome, or the negligence of a single hospital worker could prove to be the cause.

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According to a recent study discussed in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), that our Baltimore medication error lawyers have been following, hospitalized patients are more likely to have medication errors than non-hospitalized patients—when drugs used to treat chronic conditions are unintentionally discontinued in hospitals, especially if the patients are in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

The study reportedly showed that transitions in healthcare can increase a patient’s chances for medical errors that stem from inaccurate or incomplete communication between the hospital staff, the primary care physician, and the patient—causing an interruption or discontinuation of medications that aim to help treat patients’ chronic diseases on a long term basis.

According to the authors, the problem of medication errors and the unintentional discontinuation of drugs can happen during hospital stays, transfers and discharge. Treatment in intensive care units can also increase the risk of medication errors of omission as the healthcare providers are focused on emergency care and may engage in the practice of discontinuing a medication used for chronic illnesses during a time of critical illness.

The medication error study followed nearly 400,000 patients who were older than 65, and who had over one year of experience continuously taking one of the following five drug classes: respiratory inhalers, gastric acid suppressors, statins, anticoagulant or antiplatelet agents, and levothyroxine, used to treat the thyroid gland.

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According to a recent report in Medical News Today that our Baltimore medical error injury attorneys have been following, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson has been appointed as the new Envoy for Patient Safety for the World Health Organization (WHO). Donaldson recently stated, in an effort to highlight the fact that healthcare safety around the world needs to be improved, that going to the hospital is far more dangerous than flying on an airplane, as the WHO reports that millions of people die annually from medical errors associated with healthcare—far more, according to Donaldson, than accidents on planes.

In his striking comparison, Donaldson claimed that if a patient entered the hospital he would have a 1 in 10 chance of experiencing a medical error, with the chances of wrongful death due to medical error being 1 in 300. Donaldson then stated that in comparison, the risk of dying in a plane crash is far less—approximately 1 in 10 million.

Donaldson reportedly stated that in an effort to reduce the growing number of hospital related infections resulting in patient injury or harm that happen every year, patients need to ask questions and make sure that hospitals maintain the basic hygiene standards and conform to the WHO’s healthcare checklist to prevent medical error or patient illness or injury during surgical procedures.

According to the WHO statistics, 7 in 100 patients in the hospitals throughout developed countries experience infections linked to healthcare, whereas in developing countries this number increases to 10 patients in every 100. The risk of infection is directly tied to the length of time a patient stays in the hospital’s intensive care unit. The WHO figures show that risk of infection is lower in the United States than in Europe, but the death from hospital-acquired infection is higher. In the United States, 1.7 million hospital acquired infections reportedly happen every year, resulting in 100,000 deaths, and in Europe, 4.5 million hospital acquired infections happen every year, resulting in around 37,000 deaths.

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In a recent Baltimore County pharmacy misfill injury blog, our attorneys discussed a tragic medical error that caused the death of an premature infant, after a pharmacy technician accidentally entered the wrong information into the computer, causing the intravenous solution prepared buy an automated machine to contain a lethal dose of sodium chloride. This pharmacy error has reportedly brought the issue of electronic medical health records safety concerns back into the forefront of patient safety.

As our attorneys have reported in a related Hartford County medication error injury blog, the medical industry is shifting toward electronic medical records and computerized systems that make medical processes and prescription orders automatic, in an effort to reduce pharmacy error injury or wrongful death.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the federal government is also currently helping the digital shift by giving $23 billion in incentives to healthcare providers who purchase the electronic systems, with the hopes that these medical technologies will help increase access to patients’ medical information, help healthcare providers communicate better with each other, help doctors to see test results more quickly, and implement electronic safeguards to remind doctors about recommended medical practices, or to alert them about harmful drug interactions before prescribing.

With all of the benefits that come with electronic medical records and computerized systems, potential problems are also taking place, like crashing of hospital computers, or software bugs that interfere with important data, or even delete information from computerized records. Computerized systems also reportedly can produce data about patients that is disorganized or difficult to read, especially when a doctor is quickly looking for critical patient information.

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A recent Chicago Tribune article, that our Baltimore pharmacy misfill injury attorneys have been following, looks closely at electronic medical record safety, after a tragic medication error occurred, stemming from a computer mistake made at the Chicago-area Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, that caused the death of a newborn infant.

According to the article, Genesis Burkett, an infant born 16-weeks premature, was given a fatal overdose of sodium chloride last year, receiving over 60 times the dosage ordered by the physician. The hospital pharmacy error was reportedly made after a technician from the hospital pharmacy misread and inaccurately typed the doctor’s handwritten prescription orders into a hospital computer—a common source of pharmacy misfills and errors, as attorneys have discussed recently in a Baltimore pharmacy error injury blog.

The data entry mistake then caused a pharmacy misfill, as the automated machine prepared an intravenous solution containing a lethal overdose of sodium chloride that caused the infant’s heart to stop. Advocate Health Care’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lee Sacks stated that the pharmacy error could have been prevented by the automated alerts on the IV compounding machine, but at the time that the customized bag was prepared for the infant, the alerts were not activated and connected to the main pharmacy information systems at the hospital. The family’s attorney reportedly blamed the pharmacy error and wrongful death on a mislabeled IV bag.

After the medication error led to the infant’s tragic death, Advocate has since added electronic alerts to the IV compounders and initiated other medication safety measures to prevent this kind of pharmacy error from happening in the future.

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In a recent Baltimore pharmacy error injury blog, our attorneys discussed a pharmacy misfill and medication error that lead to a 94-year-old nursing home resident’s wrongful death in New York, after she received the incorrect medication for nearly twenty days as a result of a pharmacy misfill.

In a related news report, a patient in a nursing home, also in the State of New York, has recently died, after medication errors allegedly led to her wrongful death.

The patient reportedly entered the Lake Ridge Care Center on the 10th of January in 2010, due to congestive heart failure and low potassium. Her doctor reportedly ordered that the she receive three doses (two-tablets) of potassium every day. According to the New York State investigation, the staff of the home failed to properly administer twenty-six of the medication doses to the patient over a period of eight days.

On January 23, 2011, the patient was reportedly sent to the hospital emergency room, where she suffered a severely abnormal heart rhythm and died the same day, from cardiac arrest. Her potassium levels were found to be extremely low, due to medication errors that led her to miss her prescribed potassium doses to help blood pump through the heart.

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The Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning about the potentially dangerous medication errors occurring with the drugs Risperdal (risperidone) and Requip (ropinrole)—with 226 reports of patients accidentally receiving the wrong drug, causing sickness and at least one death.

Risperdal (risperidone) is an antipsychotic used for the treatment of schizophrenia, autism side effects and bipolar disorder, and is reportedly being confused with Requip (ropinirole), a drug used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and Restless Legs Syndrome, that acts in place of dopamine.

According to the Food and Drug Administration report, the medication errors are happening as a result of the drug name similarity as well as the similarity in generic drug labels and packaging, with overlapping drug characteristics such as the drug strengths, and dosing intervals. Other errors have reportedly stemmed from illegible handwriting on prescriptions.

Patients who were victims of the medication errors have reportedly experienced confusion, tiredness, hallucinations, and an altered or changed mental status, among others health problems.

The FDA warns patients who are taking the generic versions of Requip or Risperdal to notice the name and appearance of their medication, to know exactly why they are taking the drug, and to ask any questions and to report any difference in medication appearance to their pharmacists—to avoid pharmacy misfills or medication errors.

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In recent news that our Rockville, Maryland medication error injury attorneys have been following, twelve Los Angeles-area hospitals were hit with administrative penalties this week by the California Department of Public Health, ranging from $25,000 up to $75,000, after the facilities were found to be non-compliant with requirements that were likely to cause serious injury or death to patients.

One medical center, Promises Hospital, was reportedly fined $50,000 for a medication mix-up that caused a patient with a heart condition to require emergency response.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a medication error was reported in 2010 that led to the inspection of Promises Hospital. The inspectors reportedly found that a patient was given a dose of Cardizem, the drug used to treat irregular heart rhythms, that was 10 times the ordered dose—causing the patient’s heart rate to drop so quickly that the nurse was unable to get a blood reading for almost 10 minutes.

According to the department, when problems are found in facilities, hospitals must take corrective actions to prevent any similar medication errors or other problems from happening in the future, and causing injury or death to patients.

Promises Hospital reportedly claimed that it has initiated an investigation into the drug error, and has taken the necessary steps to prevent this medication mix-up for happening again in the future.

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The Institute of Medicine, reports that every year, 1.5 million people are injured by medication-related events. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), that our Baltimore medication error injury attorneys have been following, a recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), found that the number of patients treated in hospitals across the country for illnesses and personal injuries from incorrectly taking medications like sedatives, blood thinners, corticosteroids and other drugs, increased over 50% from 2004 to 2008.

The report also found that over 800,000 U.S. patients were also treated in emergency rooms across the country in medication-related events, stemming from the incorrect usage of antibiotics, insulin, painkillers, and cardiovascular and other drugs. The WSJ looked at some of these individual drugs, to examine how they can cause personal harm or injury if taken incorrectly. According to the report:

• Antibiotics can cause an allergic reaction if taken incorrectly, and can also fail to properly fight infections. Also, when taking antibiotics, patients are generally cautioned to limit sun exposure, as it can cause extreme sunburns.
• Painkillers can cause breathings problems or even death if taken with alcohol or other sedatives or painkillers. OTC products that contain the ingredient acetaminophen can harm the liver if taken with a combination of opioid-acetaminophen drugs.
• Antidepressants and tranquilizers, if taken incorrectly, can lead to panic attacks and suicidal tendencies or actions.
• If taken erroneously, corticosteroids prescribed for asthma, arthritis, transplant patients, ulcerative colitis, and other conditions, can worsen other health conditions, like high blood pressure, blood sugar problems, ulcers, and diabetes, and can also lead to withdrawal if a patient stops taking them suddenly.
• Insulin, if not taken as prescribed, can both increase or reduce a patient’s blood-sugar levels, leading to shock and other health complications.
• If a patient fails to take blood thinners correctly, a high dose that is too high can cause bruising, excessive bleeding, whereas a dose that is too low can cause clotting. Effectiveness of the drug can also be threatened when interacting with other medications.
• Blood pressure drugs can also, if the medication is taken erroneously, cause a spike in blood pressure, and an overdose can cause chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, a fast or abnormally slow heartbeat, and can also cause coma.
• Cancer drugs, when taken in error, can cause fever, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, diarrhea, cause confusion and fatigue, and when an overdose is taken, can even cause death.

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