Healthcare professionals have a duty to treat their patients with reasonable care. What happens if the doctor prescribes painkilling medication that leads to an opiate addiction? Is the doctor responsible? With the opiate crisis in the United States reaching pandemic proportion as a result of over-prescribing prescription drugs, medical malpractice lawsuits present an alternative for a grieving family to redress their loss. The opiate crisis serves to put healthcare professionals on notice that over-prescribing painkillers can lead to addiction and death from overdose. On the other hand, possession of narcotics such and heroin and fentanyl without a prescription is a crime. Does the healthcare industry have a viable defense based on the wrongful conduct of the addict against malpractice claims?
A recent Mississippi court ruling illustrates the complexity of the question. The healthcare professionals in the case were a physician and an inpatient drug rehabilitation facility. The young man stole Suboxone from the physician’s unlocked office. The young man died from an overdose of Suboxone. The young man’s parents sued the physician and the facility for medical malpractice. The healthcare professionals defended the malpractice suit by arguing that the young man’s illegal conduct prevents his family from claiming the physician and his staff committed malpractice. But, the Suboxone to which the young man gained access was unlawfully stored in the physician’s office.
Mississippi has a long-standing rule of the law that has its origins in England that prevents a person from suing for injuries caused by their illegal conduct. The rule is called the “wrongful conduct rule.” The wrongful conduct rule states that courts will not allow a person to sue for injuries occurring while the injured person engaged in unlawful or immoral acts. The wrongful conduct rule prevented a plaintiff from successfully claiming that his Oxycontin addiction was the fault of healthcare professionals. The plaintiff sued several doctors and pharmacies saying it was their fault he was addicted to the drug because of they should have known he was an addict. The plaintiff lost because he committed fraud by obtaining Oxycontin prescriptions from several doctors and filled them at multiple pharmacies in three different cities.
The rule is limited. The defense will not work simply because the defendant says the plaintiff was doing something illegal when the plaintiff was hurt. The defense is viable only if the injuries are the result of the illegal conduct. If the illegal conduct is not the direct cause of the injuries, then the plaintiff can recover damages. The wrongful conduct rule has another limitation as well. If both parties committed illegal acts, then the plaintiff can recover for injuries if the defendant’s illegal acts were greater than the plaintiff’s.
In the recent ruling, the court looked at the duty a hospital owes to people who are inpatients. The hospital must use reasonable care to protect the patient from a known or foreseeable danger and, if necessary, protect the patient from harming himself. It is foreseeable that a drug addict, seeking medical care for addiction, would try to steal and take drugs found on the premises. It is also foreseeable that an addict may overdose on narcotics as well. The unfortunate young man discussed in the case was struggling mightily in his battle with addiction. He was hospitalized to fight the addiction. It makes sense that the medical facility must take every precaution to make certain narcotics do not fall into the wrong hands.
Giddens Law Firm, P.A.: Mississippi Medical Malpractice Lawyers Ready to Help
If a hospital or other medical treatment center failed to protect you or a loved one, call the experienced Mississippi Medical Malpractice Lawyers from Giddens Law Firm, P.A. at 601-355-2022. The lawyers at Giddens Law Firm, P.A. are passionate about helping victims win the compensation they deserve for their injuries.