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Can Doctors Be Liable for Patient Overdoses?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 08, 2016 11:57 AM

Last week, a California judge sentenced Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng to 30 years to life in prison for murdering three of her patients who fatally overdosed. It marks the first time a doctor in the United States has been convicted of murder for overprescribing drugs.

Beyond newfound criminal liability, can doctors be civilly liable for patient overdoses?

Medical Malpractice

As Dr. Tseng's attorney tried to argue, most patient overdoses are dealt with by medical malpractice claims. In fact, medication errors are one of the most common mistakes that can lead to malpractice lawsuits. From a doctor's failure to diagnose potential injurious side effects to a pharmacist's clerical error, prescription drug mistakes (especially overdoses) can lead to medical malpractice lawsuits.

Lawsuits against doctors over opioid prescriptions are on the rise, even where the prescription results in an opiate addiction rather than an overdose. And as the scope of prescription drugs expands, it will only increase doctor liability for overdoses. Now that more states are allowing medical marijuana, we may see lawsuits over marijuana prescriptions or recommendations.

Products Liability

Doctors might not be the only ones liable for patient overdoses, however. Sometimes the drug manufacturers can be on the hook if they fail to properly test a new drug, design or manufacture a dangerous drug, engage in deceptive marketing, or fail to provide adequate warnings on their drugs. And often the FDA will demand stronger overdose warnings for specific drugs.

Doctors can be held liable for recklessly prescribing drugs or failing to educate themselves on the potential effects or interactions with other drugs. But drug companies can be held liable for misleading doctors or failing to provide accurate information about the drugs they manufacture.

Medical malpractice claims and products liability claims can be complicated. If you or someone you love has suffered a prescription drug overdose, you can consult an experienced attorney near you about any possible claims.

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