A jury recently awarded $154,000 to the family of a man who died in a Glen Falls, New York, hospital due to a medication error. The man died in January of 2005 after accidently being given a fatal dose of painkillers that had been intended for his hospital roommate. The jury reportedly deliberated about four hours before returning their medical malpractice verdict.
The deceased man was a 66-year-old individual suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that made breathing difficult. His condition was considered “end stage” and he had been giving only about one year to live when he was mistakenly given the lethal dose of OxyContin that had been intended for a roommate suffering from cancer.
OxyContin, a popular narcotic pain-reliever typically depresses breathing, which given the man’s chronic pulmonary condition, further prohibited his lung function and ultimately resulted in his death.
Complicating the situation, the man in question had a living will that included a do-not-intubate order. The hospital staff followed the order and did not intube him after the medication mistake was discovered. At trial, the hospital attempted to argue they should not be held responsible for the man’s death because they were following the man’s do-not-intubate directive. Moreover, they argued that the man did not suffer because he was given a drug often used to make patients comfortable during the last stages of life.
Ultimately, the jury awarded the man’s family $30,000 for the man’s pain and suffering and $124,000 for the loss of companionship. The damages for this preventable accidental death were limited because the man’s life expectancy was so short. New Yorks State’s antiquated Wrongful Death statute, unlike most other states, only values life by measuring financial earnings and support and does not consider the grief of the family. Even so, lawsuits like this demonstate how holding hospitals and doctors accountable for mistakes helps keep us all safe by exposing preventable medicl errors and providing incentives for improved patient safety.
Source: Times Union, Jury Awards Family $154,000 for Glen Falls Hospital Medical Error, Cathleen F. Crowley 11/2/10