Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Medical malpractice claim for doctor who overdosed dying friend

The American Medical Association's Code of Ethics discourages physicians from self-treatment and treatment of relatives. Pittsburgh doctors swayed by feelings may make unprofessional choices and the conflict of interest may affect how a patient responds. A close association also can blur liability, should the treatment have a negative outcome.

A doctor who developed a friendship with a dying patient has been accused of medical malpractice. The physician hired the man to do chores around her office and took an out-of-office interest in the man's care, after the patient was diagnosed with untreatable organ failure in 2011.

The physician visited the man's home daily, administered potent painkillers and went as far as hiring a person to stay with the sick man during the day. In early 2012, not long before the patient's death, the medical professional moved into the man's home. The patient died, when the doctor left the residence to pick up the daily caregiver.

An autopsy report said the patient died from an overdose of oxycodone, morphine and oxymorphone; painkillers, when combined, can cause a severe reaction. The doctor was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing, but a state medical board faulted the physician for using an "inappropriate" mixture of drugs. The accused doctor admitted she administered two drugs, but could not account for the third.

The medical board said the 69-year-old doctor, untrained in palliative care, had an inappropriate relationship with the patient. The physician's license to practice is at stake for the second time since 1992, when the doctor was convicted of Medicare fraud. She is attempting to reach a settlement with the medical board.

A defendant's bad intent is not required for a jury to award damages for doctor negligence. Courts decide whether a defendant's behavior was reasonable compared to what other physicians would do. Actions that violate accepted professional standards would fall outside the description of "reasonable."

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Ruskin doctor investigated after patient dies of painkiller overdose" Jodie Tillman, Feb. 02, 2014

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