Court Rejects “Tipping Point” Theory in Medical Malpractice Case

In a case out of the Alabama Supreme Court, released earlier this month, the court determined that a doctor who administered the drug Demerol to a patient who soon after died was not medically negligent, even though the patient had listed it as one of the drugs she was allergic to.

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In the case of Kraselsky v. Calderwood, the Supreme Court of Alabama had to determine whether a doctor was liable for the death of a patient who had told the doctor she was “allergic” to Demerol. Evidently, the patient had told the doctor that she was allergic to over 20 drugs, including Motrin, Codeine, Vicodin, and more.

However, at some point during the physician’s treatment of the woman, he had prescribed her medication that shared ingredients with some of the drugs she claimed she was allergic to. This led the doctor to wonder if there was a true allergic reaction. After confronting the woman about whether she was allergic to Demerol, the woman admitted that it gave her headaches. The doctor then determined that this was more of a side effect and not a true allergy.

Thus, when the woman was re-admitted into the hospital with pulmonary emboli in both lungs and fractured ribs, the doctor administered Demerol to help her with the pain. This occurred about 3:30 pm. At the time, the woman’s vital signs were all normal. However, by 8:00 p.m. the woman’s vital signs had taken a turn for the worse, and she was admitted to the ICU, where she entered cardiac arrest and died shortly thereafter.

The Medical Malpractice Case

The woman’s family brought a medical malpractice action against the doctor who administered the Demerol, arguing that it was medically negligent of him to provide her with the medicine after she explicitly told him she was allergic. The plaintiffs also claimed that the Demerol was what eventually led to their loved one’s death.

However, the court disagreed, finding instead that the Demerol could only be said to have “possibly” contributed to her death, rather than “probably” contributing to her death. The difference, the court determined, was crucial because that was the language of the legal standard that it was applying. In determining the distinction between “probable” and “possible,” the court looked to the testimony of another hospital doctor who was the woman’s pulmonary and critical-care specialist. He determined that the administration of Demerol likely did not have a causal relationship to the woman’s death.

Bringing Medical Malpractice Actions in Maryland

As you can see from the above case, medical malpractice cases can be highly technical and complex. In many cases, the courts rely almost entirely on very specific and nuanced testimony from expert witnesses. It is the job of an experienced medical malpractice attorney to create a strong case with convincing expert testimony that will help show the judge and the jury what really happened. To learn more about how to bring a Maryland medical malpractice case, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free initial consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Doctor Allegedly Sexually Assaults Second Patient, Maryland Accident Law Blog, September 2, 2014.

Baltimore Boy Awarded Over $2 Million in Lead-Exposure Case, Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 8, 2014.

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