Medication errors caused by medical negligence can result in serious health conditions that lead to life-threatening injuries, and even death. Medication errors made by doctors, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals may constitute a medication error lawsuit through a legal process filed by a medical malpractice lawyer in civil court.
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Injuries Caused by Prescription and Medication Errors
Many people have never experienced injuries from medical errors, at least not that they are aware of. However, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) that’s responsible for approving new drugs, monitoring drug safety, and protecting consumers, receives more than 100,000 reports of medication errors every year.
Medication errors are increasingly common. In addition to over 100,000 FDA-reported incidents each year, more than 7 million patients undergoing medical care in the United States are impacted by yearly medication errors. More than 41% of Americans report involvement with some type of medical error that occurs to them, family members, or friends. While many incidents result in mild side effects such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and skin rash, others send patients to the hospital with breathing problems, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and mental confusion.
The FDA defines a medication error as a “preventable event that may cause or lead to the inappropriate use of a medication or patient harm.” Medication errors can occur anywhere within the medication-use system that involves consumers, hospitals, doctors and nurses, pharmacists, other medical professionals, and drug manufacturers and distributors. Medication errors can occur when a medication is taken incorrectly by a patient, when a medication is prescribed improperly by a doctor, when drug information is entered incorrectly into a computer system, or when a medication is improperly dispensed by medical a professional or pharmacist.
The most common medical errors that result in a medication error lawsuit include:
- Prescribing or administering the wrong medication
- Prescribing or administering the wrong dosage
- Prescribing or administering a medication to the wrong patient
- Failing to include proper labels with dosage directions
- Failing to include information about side effects or drug interactions
- Mislabeling a medication (distributor and pharmacy errors)
The most common type of medication errors are dosage errors. Studies show that 7.8% of patient caregivers reported giving a wrong or insufficient dose to a patient, 6.6% reported giving an overdose to a patient, and 5.4% reported giving the wrong medication to a patient. Generally, elderly patients in hospitals and nursing homes are more likely to be affected by medication errors because they take significantly more medications, which may include a variety of different drugs. Patients in hospitals commonly experience medication errors, where 1 in 5 medication doses are given in error by nurses, nurses’ aids caregivers, and hospital staff.
Can You Sue for Medication Errors?
When medication errors cause illness or injury to a patient, the patient has a legal right to file a medication error lawsuit if the error was caused by negligence. If a patient is given the wrong medication, this is not enough to file a medication error lawsuit if no illness or injury occurred to the patient. In some cases, these errors can lead to absolutely no harm or injuries to a patient. To sue for damages, you must prove that medical negligence occurred by proving these four factors:
- The medical provider owed a reasonable duty of care to the patient to protect the patient from harm. This includes administering the correct medications and correct dosages.
- The medical provider breached the duty of care. This includes careless or reckless actions when prescribing or administering medications, administering correct doses, labeling medications, and noting possible side effects or drug interactions.
- The patient sustained harm, illness, or injury due to the medical provider’s negligent actions.
- The patient sustained damages as a result of negligent medical actions.
By establishing the four factors shown above, you can file a medication error lawsuit through a medical malpractice lawyer who can help you recover damages. Typical damages paid in a medical malpractice lawsuit or settlement include compensation for medical expenses, rehabilitation and therapy expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you suffer severe injuries or disabilities, damages for future medical expenses and future lost income may also be awarded. If the court finds that medical negligence resulted from intentional harm or reckless and egregious actions, punitive damages may be awarded solely to punish the responsible party.
Who Is At-Fault for Medication Errors?
Medication errors can be caused by a variety of people associated with administering and dispensing medications to patients. At-fault parties may include:
- Hospitals, surgery centers, and clinics
- Doctors and nurses
- Emergency medical technicians (EMT)
- Drug manufacturers and distributors
Causes of medication errors may include physical, psychological, and environmental causes. Physical causes may result from clerical errors such as miscalculating, misreading, or mistyping a dosage. Psychological causes may occur from cognitive lapses, general fatigue, or forgetting about a patient’s allergies and drug interactions. Environmental causes may occur by dispensing the right medication to the wrong patient, picking up the wrong medication from the pharmacy, and the pharmacy dispensing the wrong medication or the wrong dosage to the patient.
All at-fault parties for medical malpractice can be held liable for harm to patients, as long as the signs of medical malpractice can be proven in a medication error lawsuit. Because medical malpractice cases are often complicated and difficult to prove, it’s important to find a medical malpractice lawyer who knows state laws that pertain to medical malpractice lawsuits in civil court, as well as the settlement process when a case settles out of court. Hospital administrators, doctors and surgeons, and pharmacists rarely admit to making medical-related errors, and injury victims and their family members generally do not have the medical expertise necessary to recognize medication errors.
The Medication Error Lawsuit Process
If you choose to file a medication error lawsuit, a medical malpractice lawyer can guide you through the process. You will need relevant paperwork, including copies of your medical bills, medical records that include doctor visits, documentation of medical treatments, lab tests and test results, any communication between you and medical professionals, follow-up treatment details, and medications and prescriptions.
When your lawyer takes the case, a pre-trial period begins, which involves a period of discovery. During this period, which can last for 30 to 60 days, your lawyer and the at-fault party’s lawyer will exchange and review information about the case. They will review medical records, statements from medical experts, and depositions from you (the injured patient), and medical professionals. Both sides will review key facts and ask questions about injuries to come to a conclusion if medical malpractice occurred. The answer to this question determines how the case proceeds and how damages should be awarded.
After all the evidence has been reviewed and discussed, your case may proceed to a court trial or settle out of court for a designated amount of damages. Although a medication error lawsuit often settles out of court, your lawyer can advise you on the pros and cons of a settlement or a civil court trial.
The Statute of Limitations for Medication Error Lawsuits
There is a statute of limitations for medical malpractice in Illinois. You must file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Illinois within two years of when you knew, or reasonably should have known, of the provider’s negligent action (or inaction) in connection with your medical injury. This includes claims against hospitals, doctors, and other medical professionals.
However, under what’s known as a “statute of repose,” the law also says that regardless of when you discover that you were harmed by medical malpractice, if more than four years have passed since the malpractice occurred, you are barred from filing a lawsuit against the provider. To eliminate complications and a drawn-out legal process, it’s important to work with a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer with experience in handling these types of cases.
If you discover the malpractice injury more than four years after the date of the conduct that caused it and then try to file a claim, your lawsuit will be thrown out. In addition, if you file a lawsuit more than two years after you discover an injury that might have been caused by medical malpractice, or more than two years after you should have (in the eyes of the law) figured out that the injury might have been caused by malpractice, your lawsuit will be thrown out.
In Illinois, laws on the statute of limitations make exceptions for minors and people with certain disabilities. Minors may have 8 years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, but they may not file a lawsuit after they reach 22 years of age. If someone has a qualifying disability, such as mental illness, the statute of limitations does not begin until the disability has been removed. If the disability is permanent, the statute of limitations never starts, and the lawsuit can be filed at any time.