We often explain how medical malpractice cases refer to civil lawsuits where an injured party (or their family) is seeking financial accountability for the consequences of medical errors. Because they are civil lawsuits, they are filed between two private parties, which can include individuals, businesses, or even public entities. Our medical malpractice lawyers in Chicago work on these cases.
In rare situations, at the same time that civil lawsuits are filed, a negligent professional may also face criminal charges. These are separate but concurrent legal matters. They do not involve one private party suing another. Instead, as in all criminal cases, it is technically the society as a whole (represented by a prosecutor) seeking accountability against someone who broke a criminal law. While the individuals directly affected by the criminal conduct may have a personal interest in ensuring criminal accountability, they technically are not a party in any criminal case.
Perhaps the most high-profile recent example of a case of malpractice against a doctor that resulted in criminal liability is that of Dr. Conrad Murray–the former personal doctor to Michael Jackson. Murray was convicted of committing crimes because his improper conduct was so obviously wrong–dispensing medication recklessly–that it rose above mere negligence.
Hepatitis C Infection At Medical Clinic
The same basic principles are also at play in a new criminal trial that is set to get underway related to the reckless infection of medical patients at an endoscopy clinic. As reported in the Las Vegas Sun, the trial is based on a hepatitis C outbreak linked to poor practices at the clinic. All told, one person died, seven were sickened, and as many as 50,000 other patients were put at risk as a result of the reckless conduct. However, another 105 patients who contracted hepatitis C may have gotten the liver disease from their interaction with the clinic.
A pair of defendants are facing a shocking 28 criminal counts, including, “criminal neglect of patients, reckless disregard of persons, theft, obtaining money under false pretenses, insurance fraud and murder.”
The outbreak occurred in 2008. According to the prosecutor representing the state in the matter, it was caused by the doctor at the clinic (along with a nurse) prioritizing profits over patients. Instead of acting carefully to ensure the safety of patients at all times, the medical team tried to rush through procedures and minimized all expenses. Most of the criminal charges are related to unsafe injection practices at one of several clinics owned by the defendant-doctor.
The doctor’s criminal defense team has yet to begin arguing in the case, but even before the trial began they were making original claims about why the matter should not proceed. In particular, the doctor, they claim, is too incapacitated to be tried as a result of several strokes that he suffered. The trial was original delayed for competency hearings, but it now seems like that is no longer viable and the matter will continue.
On top of all of this, the doctor (and several others) are also facing federal criminal medical fraud charges. Federal officials are arguing that he overbilled public coffers for various medical care provided. These dual criminal charges are not uncommon, as once a medical professional is willing to sacrifice patient care for profit, they are often also willing to violate Medicare and Medicaid rules for their own gain.
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