Nursing Home Liability for Medication Errors

Is the nursing home liable for prescribing or administering the wrong medication or dosage? Is it a medical malpractice or personal injury lawsuit?

Medication errors in nursing homes aren't all that common, but they do occur. If your loved one is harmed in this kind of situation, what are your legal options? Is the nursing home liable in a lawsuit? Is it medical malpractice or a standard personal injury claim? Read on to learn more.

How to Prove Nursing Home Malpractice

Malpractice can occur in many different ways, but the main cause of medical malpractice always boils down to medical negligence. In medical or nursing home malpractice cases, courts often define medical negligence as a health care provider’s failure to exercise the degree of care and skill of the average health care provider who practices the provider’s specialty, taking into account the advances in the profession and resources available to the provider.

So, in order to determine if a health care provider at a nursing home committed malpractice, you and your lawyer have to prove that the health care provider was negligent.

Mistakes in Prescribing or Administering Drugs

Medication errors can result from administering the wrong medication or from administering too much or too little medication. Medication errors can be caused by any of the following problems somewhere along the chain of administration of medication to a patient:

  • a physician prescribes the wrong medication or the wrong amount of medication
  • the physician or pharmacist doesn’t ask about or forgets about patient allergies
  • the nursing home pharmacy gives out the wrong medication - either to the patient directly or to whomever is administering the medication
  • a nurse administers the wrong medication or the wrong amount of medication
  • the nurse administers the medication in the wrong manner
  • the medication interacts negatively with other drugs that the patient is taking
  • the medication interacts poorly with the patient’s diet, or
  • the nursing home pharmacy has mislabeled the medication.

How Medication Errors Happen

Medication errors are shockingly easy to make. In the old days, a patient could be given the wrong medication because the pharmacist couldn’t read the physician’s handwriting on the prescription. Luckily, those days are (mostly) gone as many physicians now send their prescriptions electronically to the pharmacist or have the prescription printed out, but physicians can now negligently type in the wrong medication or the wrong amount of medication.

Even if the prescription is accurate, a bedridden patient can still be easily administered the wrong medication. For example, the prescription might say 10 mg. of medication X, but whoever is administering the medication might negligently read 100 mg. of medication X. The nurse might even misread the prescription as medication Y because the two medications have almost identical names.

In a nursing home, the physician might think that the patient is more competent than the patient actually is, and might ask the patient if he/she has any allergies to medications. The patient says, “No allergies,” but he/she actually does have some serious allergies. The physician would be negligent in this situation because he/she failed to read the chart to determine if the patient was competent to give a proper and accurate medical history.

Administering the medication in the wrong manner can also be negligence. Different medications have to be administered in different ways. For example, if the medication is to be administered by shot, the physician or nurse might give the shot in the wrong place. That can amount to negligence.

Then, different drugs have to be injected into the body in different places. For example, some drugs have to be injected in muscles, while others have to be injected directly into the bloodstream.

These types of errors often lead to medical malpractice claims against the physician or pharmacist.

Consequences of a Prescription Drug Error

The effect of a prescription drug error can range from minimal to fatal, depending on the nature of the error. If you suspect that you or a loved one in a nursing home was administered the wrong medication, you must contact the physician immediately and get the situation straightened out as soon as possible. The legal side of things can wait.

Holding The Nursing Home Liable

In order to prove that a nursing home was negligent, a lawyer first has to obtain all of the patient’s medical records relating to the treatment in question. Next, the lawyer will almost always have to hire a medical expert witness to read through your records, investigate the circumstances of treatment -- what was done, what should have been done -- and provide an opinion as to whether the nursing home was negligent.

Often the negligence in a medication error case will be obvious in the medical records. Physicians rarely have any good excuses for making most types of medication errors.

If it can be shown that the nursing home was negligent, the resident or their family can file a personal injury or malpractice claim.

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