The short answer to this question is, “Yes, overprescribing opioids is a form of medical malpractice under most circumstances.” The ultimate question is whether the healthcare provider’s treatment of your condition fell below the high standard of care expected of such professionals, to the extent that it constituted medical negligence. Sometimes the healthcare provider is held liable, and sometimes not.
Naturally, patients don’t always win medical malpractice lawsuits. Suppose, for example, that the patient failed to tell his doctor about a previous opioid addiction. Such a misrepresentation might exonerate the healthcare provider by establishing that the opioid prescription was issued in good faith. Under other circumstances, however, medical negligence is either obvious or can be uncovered through a diligent investigation.
The primary dangers of opioids are that (i) they are typically highly addictive and (ii) overdoses are common (and often fatal) unless sound dosage recommendations are followed. The following are a few examples of some of the most commonly used opioids:
Some of these substances can be dispensed legally with a prescription while others, such as heroin and opium, are illegal under any circumstances. None of these substances are available over the counter upon request.
Opioid use in the United States has skyrocketed in recent decades – in fact, over 60,000 people per year die from opioid overdoses. Although the death rate increased rapidly in the 21st century, it seems to have leveled off recently. The reasons why these overdoses occur vary according to circumstances and motivation:
Over the years, a number of high-profile celebrities have died from overdoses of opioids or opioid-like substances. In at least some of these cases, it has been suggested that the celebrity “bought off” a doctor by offering him an unusually high salary in exchange for prescribing opioids to the celebrity based on request rather than medical need. The following are some prominent examples of cases that garnered great attention in the media:
Connecticut has enacted extensive legislation governing how healthcare providers may dispense opioids. Some (but by no means all) of these rules are listed below:
Since Connecticut law on opioid prescriptions is quite specific in many ways, it is often the case that the easiest way to win an opioid overprescription lawsuit is to prove that the healthcare provider violated a law concerning opioid prescriptions. Under Connecticut’s negligence per se legal principle, in most cases, proving that the healthcare provider broke the law is enough to automatically establish negligence.
Proving negligence will take you a long way towards winning an opioid-based medical malpractice lawsuit, but it is not enough all by itself. In addition, you must prove that
you suffered harm, and that the harm was directly caused by the legal violation committed by the healthcare provider.
Medical malpractice can be proven even if the healthcare provider didn’t break any specific law. Ultimately, many cases come down to a judgment call by the prescribing physician, and it may take an expert medical witness to establish that the prescribing physician’s judgment was poor enough to qualify as medical malpractice. Some of the ways that a physician can commit medical malpractice through overprescription of opioids include:
Overprescription of opioids can (and often does) lead to the death of the patient, especially though overdose. When this happens, the appropriate kind of civil action to file is a wrongful death lawsuit, not a personal injury lawsuit.
The executor of the deceased patient’s estate (named in the patient’s will or appointed by the probate court) must file the lawsuit. Damages can be extensive, but they go to the deceased patient’s probate estate for distribution by the probate court to estate beneficiaries (typically close relatives of the deceased patient).
In many cases, the harm suffered by the patient is partly the fault of the healthcare provider and partly the fault of the patient. Some of the ways in which a patient can be held at least partly at fault for his own damages include:
If a patient is found partially responsible for the harm he suffered through the overuse of opioids, Connecticut law on comparative fault allows for two possibilities:
Compensatory damages are designed to compensate you for all that you have lost, whether tangible or intangible. You can be compensated for medical expenses, addiction rehabilitation expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and incidental expenses, among other losses. Connecticut law places no artificial caps on the amount of damages you can be awarded, and intangible losses such as pain and suffering can be highly compensated.
Punitive damages are awarded, if at all, in addition to any compensatory damages that you receive. Punitive damages are awarded only in cases where the healthcare provider’s conduct was so outrageous that punitive monetary sanctions are considered necessary to deter other healthcare providers from repeating the same misconduct – arbitrarily issuing prescriptions any time the patient requests one, for example.
Punitive damages are awarded in less than five percent of medical malpractice lawsuits, and damages are limited to the costs of the lawsuit, including attorney’s fees.
No, they won’t. In many cases, a healthcare provider’s misconduct is so serious that criminal charges are warranted (in the death of Michael Jackson, for example). Criminal cases and civil lawsuits are two separate proceedings that can both take place at the same time – you don’t have to wait until one proceeding is finished to commence the other.
In fact, it is much easier to win a medical malpractice lawsuit than to win a criminal conviction. Even if your healthcare provider is acquitted on criminal charges, it is still possible for you to win a medical malpractice lawsuit against him, due to the differing standards of proof between a civil lawsuit and a criminal prosecution.
If you have suffered harm through the overprescription of opioids, you deserve compensation – especially if it resulted in an opioid addiction that may take years to overcome. With our extensive experience in handling opioid overprescription medical malpractice cases, the lawyers at Berkowitz Hanna can provide you with the assistance you are going to need to win all of the compensation you deserve.
Call us today or contact us online for a free initial consultation. We serve clients from throughout Connecticut from our offices in Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, and Shelton. Our firm operates on a contingency basis, meaning that you pay nothing upfront, and you pay nothing at all unless we win your case.