Articles Posted in Prescription Errors

The personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers at Michaels Bersani Kalabanka have come across some strange injuries in their line of work.  But we recently met perhaps the strangest ever.  What I am about to tell you might seem like a total fabrication. But I am not making it up. This is not April 1. This law firm is involved in a case just like the ones described below.

The case involves the anti-depressant drug Abilify, which, like the Parkinson’s drug Mirapex, can have a very bizarre side effect:  Compulsive gambling. That’s right.  Big time, pathological gambling.  When it has this side-effect, the patient tends to gamble away his or her life savings.

Don’t believe me, right? But it’s true. The evidence now is clear.  So clear that warnings are required on the drugs in most countries – including Canada — but not yet the U.S.A , where the drug lobby is more powerful.  In the U.S.,  lawsuits are swarming around the creators of the drugs (Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals for Abilify, Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim for Mirapex).  The legal theory is “failure to warn”.

The New York Times just reported on a problem I blogged about many months ago: Brand-name drug producers can be sued for failing to provide adequate warnings of prescription drug dangers while the producers of the generic form of the drug cannot. Why? Because the Supreme Court says so. I refer you to the Times article as well as to my previous blog post.

The Times article demonstrates the stark unfairness of this state of the law with a “tale of two cities”. In the first case, a woman had to have her hand amputated after an emergency room nurse injected her with an anti-nausea drug, causing gangrene. The drug happened to be a generic drug. She sued for the manufacturer for failure to warn about the risks of injecting it, and her case was dismissed. Another woman with the same injury who was injected with the same drug, but of the brand-name variety, sued on the same facts, and won big ($6.8 million). A $6.8 million dollar difference due solely to the “luck of the draw” in that the hospital in the first case used a generic drug and in the second case used a brand name.

Justice? Go figure.

As every New York prescription drug lawyer knows, prescription drug suppliers don’t always do a stellar job warning their customers about risks associated with their products. In fact, sometimes they do a plainly lousy job. And that can cause serious injury, or even death, to prescription drug users.

But every wrong has a legal remedy, right? Who could disagree with that?

The Supreme Court of the United States, that’s who. Last Thursday the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote, in a case called Pliva v Mensing, , ruled that the makers of generic drugs (as opposed to brand-name drugs) may not be sued for faulty or inadequate warning labels. This is surprising, to say the least, since two years ago the same Court, in Wyeth v Levine, reached an opposite conclusion regarding the makers of brand-name drugs.

The Auburn Citizen recently reported on a Cayuga County Nursing Home Negligence case, and that’s my topic for today.

At first blush, it seems like a compelling case. The nursing home’s negligence is clear cut. So clear cut that when the State Department of Health cited the Home with violations, the Home almost immediately paid the $12,000 fine without protest. And the resulting injury was severe; death! And the nursing home has been sued. But even though the negligence is clear, and the injury severe, I may have declined to take this Auburn New York nursing home negligence wrongful death case. Why?

Glad you asked. First, a few facts. The nursing home nurses gave this 94-year-old resident (I’ll call her “the victim”) the wrong medication. The mix-up happened because two drugs’ names – metolazone and methimazole – have many letters in common. But in fact they were nothing alike; one would help treat this woman’s ailments and the other would kill her. (New York prescriptions errors like this one are, unfortunately, all too common). The mistake started when a pharmacy (which has also been sued) entered the order incorrectly, but the nurses failed to detect the mistake and gave the victim this wrong drug repeatedly.

When Floridian Beth Hippely was diagnosed with breast cancer, and needed a blood thinner to fight it, she walked into Walgreens with her prescription. A teenage, unlicensed pharmacy technician, who Walgreens had recently hired, happened to be filling prescriptions that day. She accidently gave Hippely a dosage 10 times stronger than what she had been prescribed.

The mistaken drug overdose killed Hippley, but she did not “go gently into that good night”. The medication error caused her first to suffer a cerebral hemorrhage (a “brain bleed”), which in turn caused her to become imprisoned in her own body in a condition known as “locked-in” state. She lived as a head-on-a-pillow, conscious but unable to communicate with the outside world except by using eye movements (one blink for “yes”, two for “no”). Because of her weakened condition, she was unable to undergo chemotherapy to fight her cancer, and died of it, after a long, painful struggle.

Hippley’s family (husband and three children) won a $33.3 million verdict in their prescription error wrongful death lawsuit. Walgreens appealed the jury verdict, but last month a Florida court of appeals upheld it.

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