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Physicians held responsible for prescription drug overdoses

Medical malpractice cases often involve a patient who was improperly treated or diagnosed by a medical professional. While many of these cases may become apparent shortly after a person is in a clinic or hospital, others may arise months later. For instance one young man's life changed significantly because of an incident that took place at his home, though his family filed a lawsuit against his physician.

The young man was taking an antidepressant prescribed by a psychiatrist and was also taking a narcotic that had been prescribed by another physician. The psychiatrist reportedly did not know the young man was also taking a narcotic. While he was taking these drugs, this young man then attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself down the stairs of his home. He broke his neck when he threw himself down the stairs.

Believing that the young man's antidepressant influenced his suicidal action, his family sued the psychiatrist who prescribed the antidepressant for negligence. The psychiatrist reportedly settled the case with the family to avoid a jury trial, since a jury might have more sympathy for a young person with a broken neck than a psychiatrist.

Many families have sued medical professionals and won. However, courts recognize that the use of prescription drugs is in the hands of patients, not their doctors. A doctor can prescribe a medication, but if the patient does not follow the doctor's directions for how to take the drug, the doctor might not be able to be held responsible for harmful effects to a patient who improperly uses a prescription.

If a patient acts in an unexpected way after taking a prescription drug or misuses a prescribed medication, the patient's family and physician may find themselves in a difficult situation. If the patient's action could have been predicted by his or her physician, the physician may have been negligent in diagnosing the patient and prescribing drugs.

Source: American Medical News, "Physician liability: When an overdose brings a lawsuit," Alicia Gallegos, March 4, 2013

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