Woman awarded nearly $2 million for doctor’s medication error

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Apr 17, 2012 in Doctor Errors

Many of today's pharmaceutical drugs are powerful enough to produce results that would have been considered miracles only decades ago ... and powerful enough to kill if taken or prescribed carelessly. Methadone is no different and while best known for helping addicts get off heroin or opiates -- can also be used to relieve chronic pain. Like heroin, morphine and other drugs that cause the respiratory system to slow down, however, too much of methadone can cause a person to stop breathing altogether.

In a medical malpractice decided just last week, jurors awarded a woman nearly $2 million in damages for the brain injury she suffered as the result of a methadone overdose.

The story behind this award began in 2006. It was then that the woman's primary care physician referred her to the defendant doctor for treatment of chronic back pain that had become so bad she was forced to take a leave of absence from her job of 18 years. Only 2-½ days after taking the initial 40-mg dose of methadone that doctor prescribed to her for pain management, however, the woman stopped breathing in her sleep and suffered brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.

In the complaint and at trial, the plaintiff and her attorney, maintained that the methadone dosage the doctor prescribed was too high -- eight times the amount, in fact, that experts in the field would have recommended. Jurors also received a lesson on just how easily a patient can overdose if his or her doctor doesn't understand how the drug works or ignores protocol.

The defense countered those claims by showing jurors that the 40-mg dosage was within the FDA's acceptable range and with evidence that neither the pharmacist who filled the prescription nor the pharmacy's computer system sounded any alarm bells about potential complications. The defense also suggested that the plaintiff was at least partially to blame for the overdose because she didn't tell the pharmacist about her sleep apnea or breathing problems. Lastly, the defense argued that the plaintiff could not be awarded compensation for any loss of future income because she never intended to return to work.

Clearly, however, the jurors who heard this medical malpractice case did not find the defense's arguments compelling.

Source: Bangor Daily News, "Jury awards Corinth woman $1.9M in methadone malpractice suit," Andrew Neff, April 12, 2012

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