Richard Smith, an active retired PE teacher, was admitted to the North Shore Medical Center’s ICU for shortness of breath after receiving routine kidney dialysis. The next day, Richard was alert and stable, but complained of an upset stomach and his doctor prescribed an antacid. But Richard’s nurse disregarded nearly every single protocol in place to ensure safe drug administration and instead gave him a paralytic drug – pancuronium – that was inappropriately stored in the nursing area. This negligence sent Richard into cardiac arrest, and although he was revived, he remained in a vegetative state and died a month later.
Doctors, nurses and the hospital left Richard’s family with many unanswered questions. The hospital’s response was to move pancuronium to the operating room, where it should have been in the first place, and give the nurse responsible for this tragedy a slap on the wrist.
American Association for Justice (AAJ) member, Andrew Yaffa, is handling this case for the Smith family. He commented on the case:
“Richard’s doctor ordered a simple antacid, but instead Richard received a drug that is used as a lethal injection. At every level, this is the worst case of medical negligence that I have ever seen. It is truly horrific what was done to Richard and in turn to his family.
“This case is a prime example of why we need a strong civil justice system. The hospital’s response to calls for accountability has been grossly inadequate and only served to add insult to injury. The civil justice system provides a much needed incentive to improve patient safety. Without access to the courts, incidences of medical negligence would be brushed under the rug, leaving more patients at risk and denying families like Richard’s the justice they deserve.”
Medical errors are the sixth leading cause of death in America, with as many as 98,000 people dying every year because of preventable medical errors. Instead of focusing on fixing the root of the problem – the medical negligence – many states have passed legislation that would cap the amount of non-economic damages injured patients and their families can recover. Florida has had a cap on non-economic damages since 2003. Caps on non-economic damages do nothing to prevent the medical negligence from occurring and often limit access to the courts by rendering many cases too expensive to bring to trial, especially for women, children, the elderly and the disabled – those who may not have suffered substantial economic loss, such as lost wages.
Read more about AAJ's calls to improve patient safety and protect patients’ rights, here.