In what sounds like a clear case of Medical Malpractice, Dr. Jeffrey Zipper was fined $10,000.00 by state regulators for using expired morphine that had been prepared for another patient on a woman who later died. In addition to the morphine being expired, the concentration was 12 times stronger than the label indicated. Dr. Zipper has blamed the pharmacy that prepared the vial for that error- the pharmacy has denied it.
As reported by the Sun Sentinel, Dr. Zipper injected an unidentified 88 year old woman with morphine for her chronic back pain. Later that evening, she became dizzy, nauseous and could not be fully awakened at home. She was treated at the hospital and sent home, but the same thing happened the next day, causing her to be hospitalized for a week. She later fell into a coma and died two months later in a rehabilitation facility.
In a letter to The Florida Board of Medicine, Dr. Jeffrey Zipper, chief executive at the National Pain Institute, admitted using the wrong drugs on the unidentified woman, but also said in the letter that he had no blame for the death.
The medical board did not discipline Zipper in the death, but fined him for using the wrong drugs, ordered him to perform 50 hours of community services and issued him a letter of concern.
There is no question that giving a patient expired morphine is below the standard of care-a fancy term for Medical Malpractice. That being said, the question in this case is whether the Medical Malpractice “caused” the complications which ultimately led to the woman’s death. This element is called causation, and without it, there is no case.
In addition to having to prove causation, a Florida Medical Malpractice case for Wrongful Death, requires a survivor to bring the action. Pursuant to the Florida Wrongful Death Act, a Claim for Medical Malpractice can be brought by a spouse or a child under the age of 25. Given the woman’s age of 88, it is unlikely she had any children under the age of 25. Thus, if she did not have a spouse, then no claim for medical malpractice can be brought.
If, however, the pharmacy was negligent as alleged by Dr. Zipper, then any child can bring a claim for negligence. A Wrongful Death Claim based in Negligence does not have an age restriction like that in Medical Malpractice. In addition to the fact that there are no age restrictions, negligence claims are generally much easier to prove then are Medical Malpractice actions.