Most of the time, patients take the medication their doctor prescribes without much thought. These patients assume their doctor has the knowledge and expertise to diagnose a medical condition and choose the appropriate medicine to treat that condition. The expectation is well founded as doctors spend years training and preparing for doing exactly that. Yet, sometimes medical professionals fail to live up to that simple goal and medication errors occur. A recent lawsuit judgment against a hospital highlights the dangers of such mistakes.

In 2008, a woman died after she was given a lethal dose of insulin at a hospital. The woman had seen a prior doctor, who at the time relayed her insulin prescription by phone, which was then computerized and relayed to India. Unfortunately, the prescription was wrongly transcribed. When the woman went to another hospital she was given a dosage of insulin that was 10 times the amount she needed at the first hospital. The error was fatal. A jury recently found the hospital and three other institutions liable for $140 million in damages.

Instances of medication errors like this constitute medical malpractice. Doctors and hospitals owe their patients a duty of care. When that duty is breached and injuries result, the doctor and the hospital can be held responsible for the damage they have caused. In the insulin overdose case, the first doctor should have ensured that the prescription was transcribed properly and doctors at the second hospital should have realized the prescribed dosage was too high. Their failure led to death.

Once one succeeds on a medical malpractice claim, the victim can obtain compensation. These awards can help cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and, in the worst cases, funeral costs. These recoveries will help victims and their families recover physically, emotionally and financially.

In addition to helping those directly harmed, a medical malpractice suit punishes errant medical institutions and their professionals. This way, hospitals, doctors and nurses will take more care in the future and ensure that their next patients will be in the safe hands they expect.

Source: The Miami Herald, “Ala. Hospital must pay $140M in ex-patient’s death,” Dec. 14, 2012