Jury Awards $6 Million in Morphine Overdose

Article posted on: 06/03/2008

As first reported in the Tuscon Citizen last month, a jury awarded a Tucson family $6 million in a lawsuit brought after an ailing 81-year-old relative died of a morphine overdose. According to the article, Mary Culpepper and two other relatives last month were awarded $2 million each, with the cost to be paid 90 percent by operators of a nursing home, Manor Care Health Services, and 10 percent to be paid by Tucson Medical Center. Culpepper sued Manor Care, TMC, a doctor, nurse and pharmacy over the Dec. 8, 2003, death of her mother, Sylvia Culpepper. She was admitted to TMC on Dec. 2, 2003, suffering from sciatica, a painful nerve condition. On Dec. 4, 2003, she was prescribed 15 milligrams of morphine twice a day. Two days later, her dosage increased to 30 milligrams, twice a day. When Culpepper was transferred from TMC to Manor Care, prescription orders contained both dosages. According to the lawsuit, the Manor Care staff failed to note the discrepancy in the prescriptions and gave her both dosages, both twice a day. An autopsy determined that Culpepper died of acute morphine intoxication.

Medication errors generally fall into one of several categories:  prescription errors, dispensing errors, medication administration errors and/or patience compliance errors.  Generally speaking, all hospitals and pharmacists should have in place organization systems for administering, ordering, and dispensing medications.   For example, before dispensing a medication in a non-emergency setting, a pharmacist should review an original copy of the written medication order and participate in a self checking process in reading prescriptions, labeling the prescription and dosage calculations.   Pharmacists should never guess or assume the intent of a confusing medication order.  The physician and pharmacist must communicate in those situations to avoid an error.  Medication prescribers, such as doctors, should evaluate the patient's total status before ordering a new medication so as to ensure that the new medication will not adversely interact with medications the patient is currently taking.  Moreover, health care providers should work to ensure that the dosage level for each medication is correct and will not adversely affect the patient or the existing medications of the patient.  

If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of a medication error, contact the lawyers at Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White for a free consultation.   Our office routinely handles such cases and has handled them with considerable success against hospitals including Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland Medical System, St. Joseph's Hospital, Union Memorial Hospital, Bon Secours Hospital, St. Agnes Hospital, Sinai Hospital, Anne Arundel County Medical Center, Howard County General Hospital, Frederick Memorial Hospital, Baltimore Washington Medical Center, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, Washington Adventist Hospital and other facilities around the area.   Our lawyers generally handle these matters on a contingency basis which means that we lay out the expenses for our clients and only seek reimbursement and attorneys' fees following the successful resolution of the case by way of settlement or at trial or on appeal.