Chicago Medication Error Lawyers
Legal Representation for Victims of Medication and Prescription Errors
It's estimated that more than 70% of all Americans take some type of prescription medication and those numbers are expected to rise higher still in the coming years. There seems to be a drug or a medication for just about everything these days and as anyone who watches television knows, pharmaceutical drug manufacturers are one of the largest TV advertisers, touting their newest and greatest drugs all day, every day. So it should come as no surprise that so many people take prescription medication. The fact that so many are on prescription meds is not the actual problem though. After all, never before in history have so many wonderful and medically helpful drugs been available for treatment of various medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, seizures, etc.
In addition to medications that people take on a daily basis to improve their lives and treat ongoing health issues, there is also a host of drugs and medications that are directly administered in doctors' offices, urgent care facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals directly by medical professionals. Such drugs may be given while inpatient at a hospital, as incidental to a surgical procedure, while in a residential nursing home, while in an emergency room, or elsewhere. Many modern surgical procedures would be impossible to successfully perform in the absence of drugs that regulate blood pressure, bleeding, sedation and anesthesia.
So the problem lies in the implementation and administration of medications and drugs, not the drugs themselves. Although each year, some drugs are recalled or the subject of class action lawsuits relating to their effectiveness or safety, drugs must first be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and most drugs are safe when used properly. When medication mistakes happen that injure or kill people, the fault almost always is a human error by a doctor, nurse, medical technician, orderly, or pharmacist.
Common Types of Drug Medication Mistakes
When medication errors result in permanent injury or death, medical malpractice has likely occurred. Some of the most common categories of these cases include:
Adverse Reactions & Side Effects
Every year, over four million people visit the emergency room or doctor's office dealing with adverse drug reactions. It's quite rare to find a drug that has no possible side effects at all. Before being made available to the public, new drugs must be subjected to clinical trials and stringent medical testing before being approved by the FDA. But even after such testing, federal drug regulators will usually still approve a useful drug, despite the possibility of some side effects. Most such side effects vary from patient to patient, and are at least partially dependent upon the patient's age, ethnicity, gender, weight, health, and medical condition.
So, virtually all medications have some potential for adverse medical reactions. This, in and of itself, is not the primary problem. The adverse effects must simply be acknowledged, weighed against the potential good that may result from taking the medication, considered when taking into account the patients' medical history and present medical condition, and fully disclosed to the patient, so that he or she can give their "informed consent" to the treatment. It is the patient's body after all, so full information must be made available to allow the patient to make a determination if the risk outweighs the potential benefit.
Medication medical malpractice occurs when the medical provider either fails in his or her duty to fully inform the patient about these risks or to properly evaluate the patient to determine their suitability for this particular treatment. The negligent party may be the doctor or in other circumstances, it may be the pharmacist. Especially when serious side effects are associated with the medication, the medical provider must meet their professional "standard of care" when determining whether to provide or prescribe the particular drug to a patient (side effects may be detailed in a "black box warning," which is the strongest type of warning that the FDA may require a pharmaceutical company to put on their drug or the drug's literature. It is called this because of the black box or border around the warning).
Overdosing & Underdosing
Even when the prescribed medication is perfectly suited to the treatment of the particular illness or disease, administering the correct dosage is absolutely vital. When too little of the drug is given, the patient will not reap the full intended medical benefit. But in the context of progressive diseases such as breast cancer or prostate cancer, such underdosing will not only result in a failure to get better, but it may also allow the cancer to progress and metastasize.
In other circumstances, an overdose of medication may occur. Overdosing injuries may happen because the doctor or medical staff member fails to follow simple written dosage instructions or sometimes in the case of infants or children (whose dosage is difficult to determine or based upon the child's size and weight) it may happen based upon a miscalculation. Whereas drug underdoses may allow a disease like cancer to take hold and spread, drug overdoses may result in permanent brain damage, stroke, or death.
The health care provider responsible for such medication malpractice may be almost anyone along the chain of treatment from initial prescription to fulfillment:
- It may be the doctor who prescribed an improper dosage
- It may be the nurse who called in the prescription incorrectly
- It may be a RN or CNA who administered an incorrect dosage in a hospital
- It may be a pharmacist or pharmacist's assistant who filled the prescription incorrectly
- It may be a drug store chain with an out-of-date or negligently maintained computer system
Some of the most common drugs involved in medication dosing injuries and deaths include cardiac medications, cancer medications, steroids, antibiotics, and blood thinners (anticoagulants). But regardless of the drug involved and regardless of where along the chain of treatment the medical malpractice occurred, the potential consequences for such negligence are immense.
Allergic Drug Reactions
A doctor may prescribe or administer a drug that is well suited to the illness or disease being treated, and yet the patient may demonstrate an allergic reaction to that drug. An allergic reaction is an abnormal reaction of the immune system in which the immune system misidentifies the drug as a harmful substance, such as a bacterial or viral infection and takes action against it. Such an allergic reaction may produce a wide range of symptoms or problems. They may be minor and treatable such as hives, shortness of breath, swelling, itching, fever or a rash. But in other circumstances, they may create serious dangerous conditions which include:
- Anaphylaxis - a life-threatening medical condition that may affect multiple body systems. Signs of anaphylaxis:
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty breathing
- Tightening of throat and airways
- Rapid weak pulse
- Blood pressure drop
- Serum Sickness - a medical condition which may cause swelling, nausea, rash, joint pain and fever
- Nephritis – an inflammation of the kidneys which may cause blood in the urine, confusion, swelling, fever and other symptoms
- Drug Rash with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms – referred to as DRESS, this is a medical condition which may result in high white blood cell counts, a reoccurrence of the dormant hepatitis infection, rash, swollen lymph nodes and swelling
- Drug Induced Anemia – a reduction in the number of red blood cells, with resulting symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeat
Although some allergic drug reactions are the result of what is referred to as cross-reactivity (two or more drugs with a similar chemical composition), determining which patients are allergic to which drugs is often hard to detect. It is the job of the doctor or pharmacist, to evaluate if there are any indications that a particular patient may be allergic to a particular medication. Sometimes, the answer is as simple as the patient telling the doctor that they are allergic to something. Usually, an intake sheet will also ask the patient for his or her allergies. Whether the doctor can reasonably expect an allergic reaction often depends upon whether the medical provider has medical records that show the patient's past and present medication history. Some of the drugs most commonly linked to allergic reactions include:
- Bee pollen products
- Corticosteroid lotions or creams
- AIDS and HIV medications
- Chemotherapy drugs for cancer
- Penicillin and other antibiotics
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIID)
- Autoimmune disease drugs, like those for rheumatoid arthritis
Drug Name Confusion
Considering that competent medical care sometimes means the difference between life and death, there are certain "never events" that should never ever happen. Who could imagine that "wrong site surgery" or "wrong patient surgery" was even a real thing? After all, how hard is it to determine which patient gets which surgery? But yet, medical malpractice mistakes like that happen every day.
Another shocking medical error involves drug name confusion. Every year, the FDA reviews about 300 drug names a year before they are allowed to be marketed. The intention is to weed out those names that are too similar to other drug names and may be confused. Who is doing all of this confusing? – Doctors, hospitals and pharmacies. Some of the drug names that have negligently been confused include:
- Lamictal for epilepsy (lamotigine) vs. Lamisil for nail infections (terbinafine) vs. Ludiomil for depression (maprotiline) vs. Lomotil for diarrhea (diphenoxylate)
- Serzone for depression (nefazodone) vs. Seroquel for schizophrenia (quetiapine)
- Zantac for heartburn (ranitidine) vs. Zyrtec for allergies (cetirizine) vs. Zyprexa for mental conditions (olanzapine)
- Taxotere (docetaxel) vs. Taxol (paclitaxel), both chemotherapy cancer drugs
- Celebrex for arthritis (celecoxib) vs Celexa for depression (citalopram)
- Methadone for treating opiate dependence vs. Metadate ER for treating attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
The wrong drug in some circumstances may not lead to serious problems, such as a patient who receives Lamictal for a nail infection (intended for epilepsy), but the patient who receives Lamisil for epilepsy (intended for nail infections) may suffer much more serious consequences from the resulting failure to control their epileptic seizures.
The FDA has made various recommendations intended to reduce the number of "drug name confusion" cases. One such recommendation is for pharmacists to separate drugs with similar sounding names on the pharmacy shelves. Another is for physicians to indicate on their prescription orders both the brand name and generic name, as well as the treatment purpose for the drug. When doctors or pharmacists carelessly confuse one drug for another with a similar name, permanent injury or death may result. Such negligent actions may constitute medical malpractice.
Prescription Handwriting Errors
Most people have heard jokes about how bad doctors' handwriting usually tends to be. But it's no joke at all, as the results are sometimes deadly serious. It's estimated that 7000 people each year die as a result of poorly written prescriptions. Some years ago, actor Dennis Quaid's twins were given a massive (1000 times) accidental overdose of the drug thinner Heparin under such circumstances. It happens every single day.
When a doctor writes a prescription for a patient, he or she is writing down the type of drug prescribed, the quantity of medication, and the instructions for use. Any one of these elements, if interpreted incorrectly, may lead to unforeseen and unexpected consequences. If the name of the drug is confused, the patient's condition may worsen. In the case of cancer drugs, such a failure to treat the disease may allow the cancer to metastasize. If the dosage of the drug is misread, the patient may overdose, leading to any number of serious consequences including coma, permanent brain damage or death. If the instructions are misread, similar underdosing or overdosing injuries may occur as well.
It may be as simple as an "s" that looks like an "f" or a "3" that looks like an "8." The confusion may happen with the drug name, the drug dosage or the drug instructions. In many circumstances, the problem is with the dosage and the misplacement of a simple decimal point or a measurement abbreviation error may result in a massive medication overdose.
The practice of medicine has become more technologically advanced than ever before in history. Robotic surgery and remote monitoring of patients to name just two. Yet, considering that doctors (like the rest of us) tend to type more and write less, for some reason most doctors still want to write prescriptions by hand, despite the obvious dangers. These days, some doctors do type prescriptions and some do electronically transmit them to the pharmacy, but most still scribble them on a piece of paper. When these handwritten prescriptions are the reason for injury or death, medical malpractice has occurred.
Sometimes the correct drug is prescribed by the doctor, but the wrong drug is filled at the pharmacy. These medical mistakes can result in serious injury or death. Some of the primary causes of these errors include:
- Pharmacist unable to read doctor's handwriting
- Pharmacist failing to confirm unclear prescription with doctor's office
- High volume of pharmacy prescriptions
- Pharmacy understaffing and long hours
- Mislabeling of correct medication
- Filling wrong medication from correct prescription
- Mislabeling correct medication
- Providing wrong instructions
- Providing prescription to the wrong customer
- Filling prescription with wrong dosage
- Drug abuse or other problems with pharmacist
- Excessive phone call and customer interruptions
In the famous movie "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey heroically saved the town's druggist (Old Man Gower) from misfilling a patient's prescription. But these mistakes are unfortunately not just the stuff of movies, because it's estimated that 4000 prescriptions are filled incorrectly every single day. These errors happen at hospital pharmacies, local pharmacies, and at virtually every national pharmacy including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid, Kroger, Safeway, Publix, Meijer, and Shoprite. When injury results from a misfilled prescription, a lawsuit for medical malpractice may be the proper next step to obtain justice for the customer.
Harmful Drug Interactions
A doctor may properly diagnose an illness or disease and prescribe the proper drug and dosage for the patient. The patient may then go to the pharmacy, have the prescription properly filled, and then correctly follow instructions when taking the medication. Yet, serious permanent injury or death may still result under some circumstances. The cause? Harmful drug interactions.
There is virtually not a drug to be found that does not have at least some potential harmful interaction when mixed with another drug or another substance. Most medications come with all kinds of written warnings, "black box warnings," and lengthy written information from the drug manufacturer intended to fully disclose all of the dangers (and to shield the pharmaceutical company from liability). But these warnings do not fully protect the patient.
It is not enough for a doctor to prescribe the right medication or for a pharmacist to fill the prescription properly. In many cases, the doctor and/or the pharmacist is aware of the patient's medical history, medical conditions or knows what other drugs the patient is likely taking. In such circumstances, the doctor or pharmacist must bring potential harmful interactions to the patient's or customer's attention. A failure to do so may constitute medication medical malpractice. Some common harmful drug interactions include:
- Antibiotics reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. Backup protection against unwanted pregnancy should be used.
- Coumadin should not be taken with aspirin or ginseng. This blood thinner, which is taken by those with heart value conditions or blood clots may cause internal bleeding in such a combination.
- Blood pressure medications may be ineffective when also taken with over-the-counter oral or nasal decongestants, and blood pressure may rise.
- Antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro and Wellbutrin may result in birth defects during pregnancy or a serious complication called serotonin syndrome when taken with St. John's Wort (dietary supplement).
- Cholesterol drugs (Statins) may lead to kidney failure or muscle damage when taken with grapefruit juice, Vitamin B, or oral fungal medications.
Medical Staff Drug Errors
Even when the proper drug and dosage has been correctly prescribed by the doctor, medical mistakes by nurses, CNAs, RNs, or other members of the medical staff may result in medical malpractice involving the administration of such drugs. If the medication is administered in a hospital setting, the nurse may confuse room numbers or patient names and give the drug to the wrong patient. The drug may be administered in the wrong dosage. The wrong drug may be administered. If the drug is to be given in a shot, it may injected in the wrong place, such as the muscle instead of the bloodstream. Any of these errors will subject the nurse, medical staff or hospital to medical malpractice liability.
Nursing Home Drug Malpractice
The prescription of drugs and medications are intended only for treatment of medical conditions, illnesses and diseases. They are not ever to be used to keep residents of nursing homes, mental health facilities or other residential facilities calm or to restrain the patients in any way. When drugs are used to keep residents subdued, restrained, less demanding, or sedated simply for the benefit of the medical staff, this is known as the use of "chemical restraints." This type of nursing home abuse is immoral and potentially criminal, as well as source of medical malpractice.
Especially for the elderly, the dangers of over-medication carry a great many potential side effects which include:
- High blood pressure
- Gastric bleeding
- Vomiting and nausea
- Internal bleeding
- Breathing difficulties
- Potential for misdiagnosis as Alzheimer's dementia or other cognitive diseases
The Successful Drug Error Malpractice Case
If a patient or customer has been harmed by the negligence of a doctor (when prescribing the medication) or a pharmacist (when fulfilling the medication), the following elements will need to be proven:
Duty of care – Both the doctor and pharmacist owe the patient a "duty of care", which means that they must perform in a professional manner as would another such medical professional in their particular community.
Breach of their duty – The attorney for the injured party or their family must prove that the physician or pharmacist failed to meet this standard of care when they made a mistake or error.
Mistake caused injury or death – The plaintiff must also prove that harm occurred as a result of this mistake. It is not enough that something bad happened, it must be shown that the injury or death was directly or indirectly caused by this mistake. This type of proof is almost always proven with the help of a medical expert that the attorney must hire to carefully examine the medical records and then come to an expert conclusion.
Damages – Damages are a monetary value assigned to the injury or harm which resulted from the doctor or pharmacist's medical malpractice. It is exceedingly difficult to put a money value on pain or suffering, but the malpractice attorney (again, often in conjunction with a hired medical expert) will do their very best to assign a dollar value. The attorney will sometimes hire additional professionals to produce a "day in the life" video (which shows the daily hardships of the injured party) or another specialist to calculate how much it will cost to provide daily home health care for a severely injured patient. Some examples of recent jury verdicts involving medication malpractice include:
- $5,000,000 verdict was awarded to a woman who suffered permanent brain damage after receiving eight times the sodium amount previously prescribed by her doctor in order to treat her electrolyte deficiency. After the woman came to the ER suffering from confusion and walking difficulties, a blood test showed that she had critically low sodium levels. Although the treatment plan of the emergency room doctor called for the medical staff to administer 125 cc of sodium per hour, the ER staff member mistakenly administered 1000 cc in just one hour. The sudden infusion of sodium resulted in central pontine myelinolysis, a brain cell dysfunction resulting in permanent brain damage.
- $28,500,000 verdict was awarded to the family of a 42-year-old woman who was given a blood thinner medication which was ten times stronger than the prescription her doctor had prescribed. Although she was battling cancer at the time, she suffered a serious stroke as a result of the medication error and had to abandon her cancer treatment. She later died from breast cancer.
- $6,000,000 verdict was awarded to the family of a 31-year-old man who died as a result of a toxic interaction of drugs. The lawyer for the family argued that the Walgreens Pharmacist should have double-checked the prescriptions with the doctor before filling them and should have warned the patient about a potentially dangerous drug interaction between tramadol and methadone. The lawyer also alleged that these actions violated the company's own safety procedures. Lawyers for the Chicago-area based company said that the prescription was properly filled.
- $31,000,000 verdict was awarded by a Cook County jury to the family of a Chicago suburban man after he died from an incorrect prescription at Walgreens. Although the Chicago-based company acknowledged that the pharmacist (who admitted to abuse of painkillers) had given him glipizide, a medication for diabetes, rather than the gout medication he had been prescribed, they argued that his ultimate death was not the result of this medication error. The family's medical malpractice lawyer however, argued that the prescription mistake caused the man's kidneys to fail and he ultimately died as a result. The jury agreed.
- $17,800,000 verdict was awarded the family of a four day old baby who suffered a severe hypoxic ischemic brain injury as a result of a medication mistake before she underwent surgery. After the hospital staff administered the wrong dosage of prostaglandin, the baby went immediately into cardiac arrest on the operating table, and the doctors were not able to resuscitate her for over a half hour. The brain damage that occurred resulted in cerebral palsy as well as other medical conditions and the infant will now require constant supervision for the rest of her life due to such disabilities.
Call the Chicago Prescription Error Medical Malpractice Team
Since 1990, the affiliated Chicago injury attorneys of Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have recovered many millions of dollars for our injured clients and their families. We associate with only the finest medical experts from across the entire country in our pursuit of justice. No stone is left unturned. You will find that our attorneys our approachable, kind, and caring, as well as incredibly experienced and knowledgeable. There are time limitations for filing a medical malpractice case, so call us today for free information or to see how we can be of help to you. Our 24 hour number is (800) 996-4824.