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Can medical negligence also be against the law?

Although surgical errors may be more high-profile subjects of medical malpractice lawsuits, the truth is that injuries can result from negligence by any member of an individual's health care team. As a recent story reminds us, medication must also be properly filled at pharmacies.

Specifically, federal prosecutors have finally brought official charges against 14 former employees of the pharmacy implicated in last year's nationwide meningitis outbreak. According to the allegations, workers may have failed to take basic sterilization measures, resulting in mold and bacteria on their gloved fingertips. Pharmacists are also accused of using expired ingredients and failing to perform purity tests on drugs before sending them off to medical facilities. To make matters worse, employees may even have falsified logs intended to track disinfection cleaning schedules. 

In addition to criminal liability, the defendants may also have to respond to civil lawsuits in the form of medical malpractice actions. Since civil negligence is generally proven by a preponderance of the evidence standard, the proceedings in the criminal lawsuit could prove useful.

Today's story is an extreme example, showing how medical negligence may also have criminal implications. Yet even when criminal laws are not implicated, the harm to a patient resulting from a medication error can be serious. The paradox is that such serious injuries may result from simple administrative mistakes, such as prescribing the wrong drug or dosage, or filling errors at the pharmacy. The consequences of a patient taking the wrong medication could include poisoning, heart failure, internal organ damage or even a fatal adverse reaction.

For that reason, a patient injured by a medication error should consult with a medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can help assemble the evidence needed to present a persuasive claim of medical negligence to a jury. An attorney can also help a victim adequately estimate his or her damages.

Source: Boston.com, "14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak," Denise Lavoie, Dec. 17, 2014

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