Patients trust that when their doctors write out a prescription, it will be the right drug to treat the patient’s symptoms or condition. However, sometimes, the medication does not work. In some cases, the medication could cause you to get sick, suffer an injury, or require emergency treatment. What is the patient supposed to do when they find out the doctor gave them the wrong medication?
You might hope that when a doctor or hospital makes a serious mistake, causing an injury, they would admit the error and work to make sure you get the best care. Unfortunately, that is not often the case. Instead, the doctor, hospital, or pharmacy may deny any wrongdoing, leaving you to deal with the medical injuries.
A medical malpractice lawsuit can help injured patients recover damages after a medication error and hold the negligent doctors responsible. When the patient can show that the doctor, hospital, or other health care worker made a mistake that caused their injury, the patient can get compensation, including medical bills, loss of wages, and pain and suffering damages. For answers about a medical malpractice claim for your case, contact a medical malpractice law firm for help.
Health Care Industry and Medication Mistakes
The healthcare industry is massive, with multinational companies, pharmaceutical companies, and corporations all making a profit off of prescribing, manufacturing, and administering medication. Under the continuum of care, there are many parties that may be responsible for medication mistakes all along the way, from drug testing and marketing to administering the drugs and patient monitoring. Individuals or companies that may be responsible for medication mistakes include:
- Doctor prescribing the medication
- Nurse administering the drugs
- Pharmacist filling the prescription
- Drug company
- Pharmaceutical production facility
- Hospital or medical facility
Types of Medication Errors
Medication errors can occur any time between when the drug is tested and created to when the drug is administered and the patient is monitored. There are a lot of ways to make mistakes that can have a dangerous outcome for the patient. Some common types of prescription errors include:
- Wrong medication
- Wrong patient
- Wrong frequency or timing
- Wrong route of administration
- Wrong dose
- Drug name confusion
- Improper drug handling
- Lack of patient monitoring
- Drug design defects
- Drug manufacturing defects
- Lack of proper drug warnings
- Drug marketing fraud
- Lack of safe medication practices
Who is Responsible for Wrong Medication Injuries?
Modern medicine can involve treatment and care by dozens of health care workers. An overnight stay in the hospital could see the patient being visited by multiple doctors, surgeons, specialists, imaging staff, diagnostic test workers, nurses, nursing assistants, physician’s assistants, medical techs, and others. With so many people involved, how is the patient supposed to know who is responsible for a wrong medication injury?
The medical record contains a lot of information about what happened when the patient was under the hospital’s care. This includes vital signs, who attended the patient, prescriptions, drug administrations, referrals, consultations, and other health care information. The medical record can help piece together a clear picture of what happened before, during, and after a wrong medication error.
In some situations, there may be multiple parties responsible for a wrong medication error. For example, if the wrong medication was sent up from the hospital pharmacy, the pharmacy may be responsible. If the nurse administering the drug failed to review the drug matching the chart and administered the drug anyway, the nurse may be responsible. If the doctor failed to respond to concerning vital signs of the patient, the doctor may also be responsible.
Errors in the Chain of Medication
According to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, a medication error is “any preventable event” related to inappropriate medication use or patient harm related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems. This chain of medication includes:
- Order communication
- Product labeling
- Packaging and nomenclature
Doctor and Prescribing Errors and Order Communication
Prescribing errors and order communication is generally the first patient’s interaction with a possible medication error injury. During this process, the doctor is generally the individual who may be responsible for errors and mistakes. Causes of errors in prescribing and communication include mixing up drug names, improper diagnosis, improper hand-off procedures, or failing to document patient interactions.
After an initial prescription error, the continuum of care may just continue to allow dispensation, administration, and use of the wrong drug, in the wrong way, for the wrong patient. When an error occurs in prescribing medication, the patient may be able to trace the error back to the source using the medical records.
Drug Company and Product Labeling and Packaging
Product labeling and packaging are often developed by the drug manufacturer after getting approval from the FDA. The drug development, testing, and approval phase can take a lot of time. The FDA wants to make sure the drug is safe for the intended use and the pharmaceutical company is interested in getting their product out quickly to recover their investment costs.
There is often a lot of back-and-forth between the FDA and drug companies over labeling and packaging. FDA labeling requirements are strict for approved drugs, and need to include specific information, including:
- Active and inactive ingredients
- Purpose and use
- Specific warnings
- Dosage instructions
- Allergic reactions
One of the most important parts of medication labeling is the “black box warning.” Black box warnings are required for medications that have serious safety risks. These warnings stand out to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks.
Some drug companies have not been fully transparent with the specific warnings of their drugs, even when there was evidence the drugs may have been dangerous or more dangerous than described. When there are problems with labeling and packaging which cause an injury, it may be the drug company at fault for the victim’s injuries.
Drug Manufacturers and Compounding and Distribution
After a drug is developed, it must be manufactured for use and distribution. Some drug companies manufacture the drugs in their own labs and others contract with third-party manufacturing companies to produce the drugs. The drugs are then supposed to be safely packaged, stored, and shipped to hospitals, pharmacies, and other distributors.
There is a lot that can go wrong during the compounding, production, and distribution process. Much of this process goes on behind closed doors where problems can go undiscovered for weeks, months, or even years. Dangers in drug manufacturing and distribution can include contamination, labeling errors, using inferior materials, improper storage, or mishandling.
Many drugs require a highly sterile environment for development and can be sensitive to temperature and light. Defective drug manufacturing can cause spoilage or contamination, rendering the drugs useless or even dangerous. The drug company, manufacturer, or distributor may be at fault when dangerous drugs are produced and delivered to the patient.
Drug Defects and Strict Liability
Some wrong medication injuries are caused by defective drugs. Like a defective airbag, phone battery that suddenly blows up, or defective hip implant, defective drugs can be put into the market without the consumer having any idea. In a product liability lawsuit, anyone involved in putting the dangerous product in the stream of commerce may be liable for injuries. This takes the burden off the victim in showing exactly who was responsible for the dangerous product.
Pharmacists and Dispensing Medication
Drug dispensation generally occurs in the pharmacy. The pharmacist gets the prescription from the doctor, patient, or hospital. If the pharmacist makes an error, it may result in handing out the wrong medication or wrong dosage. Pharmacists may also be on the lookout for dangerous drug interactions, where a drug is contraindicated with something already prescribed to the patient. Dispensation errors may be caused by the pharmacist or pharmacy.
Nursing Staff and Administration and Use
Even after the patient has the right drugs for the right use, administration errors could cause serious harm. The person administering the drugs is generally the patient or a nurse or other health care worker. If the nurse or aid fails to follow the directions to administer the drug, it could have tragic consequences. Administration errors could include wrong drug, wrong dose, wrong patient, wrong route, or improper drug handling.
Can I Sue the Hospital for a Wrong Medication Error?
When a hospital employee makes a medication error, the hospital may be responsible for the employee’s actions. The reasons for this make a lot of sense to patients. If an hourly hospital worker without much money makes a serious mistake that causes permanent damage to the patient, the worker does not have any resources to compensate the victim.
Instead, the hospital is a large company, with insurance and lots of financial assets. The hospital has the resources to compensate an innocent victim who suffered an avoidable accident. After all, it was the hospital that hired the worker and trusted them with patient care. The employer may be in the best position to be responsible for employees and compensate victims of employee negligence.
The injury victim can sue a hospital for malpractice caused by an employee’s negligence. Under vicarious liability, an employer may be liable for the negligence of an employee when the worker is acting within the scope of employment. Also known as respondeat superior, a hospital can be liable for the acts of hospital employees performed in the course of their job duties. If you have questions about who is considered a hospital employee, talk to your medical malpractice law firm for advice.
Can I Sue the Insurance Company for a Medication Error?
When can the health insurance company be responsible for a medication error? Insurance companies generally become involved in a medical malpractice indirectly, as the insurance provider for a doctor, hospital, or other defendant involved in the case. Most doctors have medical malpractice insurance. The insurance companies will represent the doctor in the event of a medical malpractice lawsuit, and cover any damages up to the liability limit.
The level of involvement with the hospital insurance companies can seem overwhelming in a medical malpractice case. Each defendant may have their own insurance policy and each policy may be represented by a different insurance defense lawyer. This could mean there are a dozen lawyers representing a dozen defendants in a medical malpractice case, generally working through the insurance companies.
The insurance companies try to get the case dropped or the claims dismissed. If that doesn’t work, they may try and settle the case for as little as possible. If the injury victim has a strong claim, they may want to take the case to court. The insurance companies may authorize a final settlement negotiation just before trial to avoid going to trial if the case is against them.
When the injury victim wins the case, the jury may award the plaintiff damages based on the level of fault of the defendants. If the damages are under the liability limits, the insurance company will end up paying out for any covered damages. The doctor may be personally liable for any additional damages.
The doctor’s insurance company is usually involved in a wrong medication injury but the patient’s insurance company is not usually the direct defendant.
How Do I Get Started on a Wrong Medication Lawsuit?
Many people wait too long after a wrong medication injury to do anything. If you wait too long, it will be too late to file a claim. Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit for a wrong medication error is important for you and for others. A claim can help you recover damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. However, a claim can also hold those responsible for their negligence and could protect others in the future.
If you have questions about your claim, call an experienced law medical malpractice law firm. Medical malpractice attorneys can answer your questions and guide you through the process. Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get an expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim after a wrong medication injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.