Teen’s family will receive $1.5 million settlement for fatal painkiller overdose from medical error

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by Eric Pearson

Teenager Jessica Erin Hart was taken by her mother to a MedExpress urgent care center in Roanoke County, Virginia to be treated for a severe sore throat in April 2013. The 17-year-old was given more than twice the recommended dose of the potent opioid painkiller Dilaudid. Hart stopped breathing before she could make it back home. The urgent care center has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a wrongful death case lawsuit.

Dr. Joyce Luteyn allegedly ordered that Hart be given a 4-milligram shot of Dilaudid, which would be about twice the recommended dose for adult patients with no history of taking opioid medications. Dilaudid is more powerful than morphine. Hart was both underage and “opioid-naive,” i.e., she did not have a history of taking such drugs. Further, Hart’s weight of just 105 pounds made her even more susceptible to having a bad reaction. On her way home, Hart went into respiratory and cardiac failure. She was rushed to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and died a few hours later.

Dilaudid (hydromorphone) is an opioid pain medication. An opioid is sometimes called a narcotic. Opioids were associated with 75% of prescription drug overdoses in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data.

Drug deaths in America now outnumber traffic fatalities. Overdoses of prescription painkillers (opioid or narcotic pain relievers) have more than tripled in the past 20 years, killing more than 15,500 people in the United States in 2009 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Prescription drugs linked to causing the most deaths include:

  • Opioids (painkiller) such hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin) and fentanyl (Duragesic) patches
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants used to induce sleep and treat anxiety) such as Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium)
  • Amphetamines (central nervous system stimulants used to treat ADHD and similar disorders) such as Adderal, Ridalin, and Concentra

Heygood, Orr & Pearson fights for painkiller overdose victims

When doctors and hospitals fail to exercise proper care when prescribing opioid medications, they may be putting the health—and even the lives—of their patients at risk. Patients who are given painkillers that are more powerful than what is needed to treat their symptoms, or who are given large prescriptions with more pills than necessary, are more likely to suffer an accidental overdose or to become addicted to their medications. In other cases, opioid medications such as fentanyl can be prescribed with other drugs that depress the central nervous system, leading to a combined drug overdose.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of complications from an opioid overdose, the doctor or hospital who prescribed these drugs may be to blame. Many doctors who prescribe strong painkillers to their patients have little experience with pain management, causing them to prescribe drugs that are too powerful or in doses that exceed what a patient requires. Sadly, many of these mistakes end in addictions, overdoses, or deaths that could have been prevented.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has represented numerous clients who have been the victim of complications from excessive painkiller prescriptions by doctors or hospitals. The attorneys at our law firm have handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch—a powerful opioid painkiller about 100 times more potent than morphine—than all other law firms in the country combined.

Our partners—Michael Heygood, Jim Orr, and Eric Pearson—have each been chosen by their peers as Super Lawyers in the state of Texas for several years in a row.* Our firm has also been given the highest possible rating for law firms by Martindale-Hubbell, the nation’s leading law firm rating service.

For more information about opioid painkiller lawsuits and to find out if you are eligible to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located at the top of this page.

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* Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.