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New York Court Addresses Doctor’s Liability for Prescribing Opioids

Primary care physicians provide patients with generalized care for a variety of conditions, including chronic pain. While opioid painkillers can provide essential relief to many people with chronic pain, they must be administered with caution and patients taking opioids must be carefully monitored, to prevent abuse and diversion. If a physician negligently fails to use proper care when prescribing opioid painkillers, he or she may be held liable for any harm the patient suffers as a result, as demonstrated in a recent case ruled upon by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York. If you or a loved one sustained damages due to pain medication that was inappropriately prescribed by your primary care physician, it is advisable to meet with a skillful Syracuse medical malpractice attorney to discuss your options for seeking recourse for your injuries.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff’s decedent was involved in a car accident in 2007, in which she injured her left shoulder. She subsequently underwent surgery for her shoulder and was prescribed narcotic pain medication. She then began repeatedly requesting pain medication, but she was denied. The plaintiff’s decedent underwent additional surgery and was again prescribed pain medication by her orthopedic surgeon. She admitted that she was taking her medication in greater quantities and more frequently than prescribed. She requested additional medication, but her request was denied, and she was advised she would not receive any more medication.

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent then treated with another doctor, who noted that plaintiff’s decedent had track marks on her arm and diagnosed her with an opioid dependency, and a second doctor, who discharged her from his practice for using cocaine. The decedent then began treating with the defendant. She advised the defendant that she received pain medication from her orthopedic doctor, but she was looking for a local doctor. The defendant prescribed the decedent high-dose Oxycontin and Xanax. He never lowered her dosage or contacted the decedent’s orthopedic doctor. The decedent died of acute intoxication of fentanyl, heroin, Oxycontin, and Xanax.

The plaintiff subsequently brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant. the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he did not breach the standard of care and that any alleged breach, did not cause the decedent’s harm. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant appealed.

Determining Whether A Breach of the Standard of Care is the Proximate Cause of a Plaintiff’s Harm

The court noted that the subject case was not a case in which proximate cause could be denied as a matter of law. Further, the court noted that the defendant’s position that his acts or failure to act could not be the proximate cause of the decedent’s harm because the decedent showed drug-seeking behaviors and used illicit drugs prior to treating with the defendant failed to address the actual theory of liability. In other words, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant should be held liable for failing to consult the decedent’s orthopedic doctor or adjust her dosage for more than a year, despite the fact that the plaintiff had a history of drug-seeking behavior and of using illicit drugs. As the decedent’s use of illicit drugs was not unforeseeable, her use of illicit drugs was not an intervening cause of her harm. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Trusted Malpractice Attorney to Discuss Your Harm

Primary care physicians are often the first line of treatment for many medical problems, but when a doctor entrusted with a patient’s primary care does not comport with the standard of care, he or she should be held liable for any harm caused by his or her breach. If you were injured because of insufficient treatment by your primary care physician you should meet with a trusted Syracuse medical malpractice attorney to discuss your harm and what claims you may be able to pursue against your physician. The seasoned attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers are diligent advocates for their clients and will work tirelessly to help you seek a favorable result. We can be reached via our form online or at 833-200-2000 to set up a meeting to discuss your case.


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