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VA Hospital Sued Following Suicide

Not all medical malpractice cases are straight-forward instances of medical professionals making obvious errors. Sometimes there are far more subtle and unique legal issues at play, often involving the intersection of personal responsibility and prudent medical decision-making. The emotions are always high in these cases.

Take, for example, the tragic story of one recent medical malpractice lawsuit filed following a suicide. The Pilot Online recently published an article on the tragic situation. According to the report, one woman was extremely worried about the health and well-being of her identical twin sister. Her sister, a Navy veteran, had battled depression and mental health issues for some time. Tragically, two years ago on Veterans Day the woman took her own life by taking an enormous quantity of Seroqual–a widely-used antipsychotic drug.

But the story is not as simple as that. The victim’s grieving sister was outraged at the situation, because the woman had tried to take her own life three times before in the previous eight months. She had tried to overdose on the exact same medication on each of those occasions but was unsuccessful. Yet, despite those past three attempts, her doctor at the defendant-VA hospital still gave her a 120-day supply of the drug. That large prescription allowed her to consume enough of the pills at once to kill herself.

How did she obtain 120 pills at once?

According to the story, the sisted told her doctor that she was going on a trip and needed a double prescription to ensure that she did not run out. When she went to pick up the prescription she was told that it was being mailed to her. At that point the victim went back to her doctor and asked for him to write an immediate prescription that she could have without waiting for the mail. The doctor complied. That left the woman with a quadruple batch of Seroquel pills. She allegedly consumed nearly all of them in her suicide.

It is that misguided prescription that has led the woman’s sisted to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties. The suit, understandably, alleges that the doctor was negligent in making a large quantity of the drug available to her after the three failed suicide attempts using the very same medication.

Tough Legal Questions
The case raises very provocative questions about the duty owed by doctors in these situations to their patients. Of course, the medical professional did not overtly cause the harm, but the death likely would not have occurred if the prescription had not been provided. Negligence does not always mean an overt act that causes harm. At times, failure to act to prevent known risks is also a basis for liability in these cases.

Those familiar with the case believe it will all come down to “dueling medical experts.” One factor that will likely play a role is the drug itself. Seroquel is known to cause suicidial thoughts. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted that the antipsychotic medication carries the risk of those thoughts and actions. The known risks of the drug plus the three previous attempts should obviously have raised significant red flags for the medical providers controlling the patient’s access to the drug.

It will be interesting to follow this case to determine how the legal arguments are made and how the jury reacts.

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