Man Dies After Accidentally Receiving Drug Used in Executions

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The family of a Florida man who died after receiving the wrong medication at a Florida hospital has filed a lawsuit against the hospital. In July 2010, 79 year-old Richard Smith went to North Shore Medical Center with shortness of breath and was admitted to the ICU. A doctor prescribed the antacid Pepcid, but the nurse administered Pancuronium by mistake. Pancuronium is a muscle relaxant used while intubating hospital patients, but is also used as part of a mixture of drugs in lethal injections.

The nurse had to get the Pancuronium from a locked drug cart in the ICU, while Pepcid is available over-the-counter. News reports do not indicate if the hospital keeps Pepcid in the same area. The nurse apparently injected the Pancuronium into Smith’s IV and left. According to University of Miami anesthesiologist Dr. Keith Candiotti, the drug would not cause a patient to lose consciousness but would render them unable to move or breathe in a large enough dose. Smith lay unattended for half an hour, according to hospital records, before staff noticed that he was unresponsive. Smith’s son arrived at the hospital shortly afterwards to find his father unconscious. Although Smith was resuscitated, he never regained consciousness and died almost a month later.

According to news reports by Miami’s WPLG, the nurse who administered the incorrect medication to Smith still works at the same hospital. He was reprimanded, paid a $2,800 fine, and had to attend “remediation courses.” The hospital reported that he had been “appropriately counseled and re-trained.” It has reportedly removed Pancuronium from most areas except the operating rooms themselves, and upgraded the medication’s packaging to include additional warnings.

Smith’s family filed suit in a Miami court in November against North Shore, claiming damages for wrongful death and the loss of Smith’s income and support. They particularly note that, in addition to making a mistake, the hospital did not notice their error for thirty minutes, leaving Smith alone that whole time. Smith’s family does not feel the punishment meted out so far is enough. Smith and his wife, Lula, had four children of their own and adopted and raised ten other children. She still has care of two children, ages 2 and 10, that they had taken in when the children’s mother died.

Hospitals and medical professionals owe a substantial duty of care to patients, greater than the duty of care others may owe to the general public. The law places this high burden not only because of the additional education and training required to enter the medical field, but because of the high level of trust patients place in the medical professionals who care for them, such as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Breaches of this duty of care can have dire consequences, and in this case it resulted in loss of life. The Smith family’s lawsuit is still in its very early stages, so it has yet to delve into the serious questions of how the nurse, and the hospital that still employs him, allowed this to happen.

People who have suffered injury due to a medication error in a pharmacy or hospital may be entitled to compensation for their damages. For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Kansas City pharmacy error lawyer, contact Doug Horn at Horn Law today through our website or at (816) 795-7500.