Medication Errors Affecting Children & Potentially Leading to Lawsuits
When a young child gets sick or suffers an injury, their parents may need to administer medications in amounts prescribed by a doctor. Some children who have ongoing medical conditions may take medications regularly. Errors may occur when parents give a child the wrong medication, the wrong dose of medication, or medication at the wrong time. The risk of error increases when a child needs multiple doses or medications throughout the day or a precisely measured dose of a medication. Some medication errors may cause minimal harm, but other errors may cause a child to develop a new condition or suffer serious complications.
Doctors should try to simplify and clarify the process of administering medication to a child, to the extent possible. Depending on the situation, this might involve:
Explaining instructions to parents in words that a non-doctor can understand
Using consistent and clear units (and abbreviations of units) for measuring doses
Providing charts or schedules when a treatment plan requires a child to receive multiple medications in overlapping cycles
Giving parents oral syringes that allow for accurate dosing when precision is critical, such as when a very small amount of a powerful drug is prescribed
Responding to any follow-up questions that a parent raises
A doctor also should tell parents about any risks and side effects associated with a medication that they are prescribing for a child. Before they prescribe a medication, they should make sure that they know the full scope of any prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines that the child is using, and they should ask about any allergies. Parents should be familiar with these details so that they can give the doctor a comprehensive picture.
When Children Self-Medicate
Eventually, an older child probably can handle their own medications. Parents should make sure that they are confident in their child’s maturity before giving them this responsibility, though. They also may want to keep an eye out for any abuses of medications by teenagers.
Claims Based on Medication Errors Affecting Children
Some medication errors involve mistakes or oversights by parents for which a doctor was not responsible. For example, if a parent makes an error in measuring the dose of a medication after being clearly instructed on the proper dose, the doctor could not have prevented the harm. In other cases, a doctor may bear at least some fault, such as when they fail to provide adequate instructions for administration, fail to check a child’s history and current medications, or fail to warn about risks. If a child suffers harm because a doctor did not meet the standards of their profession, parents may have a medical malpractice claim against the doctor.
To establish liability for malpractice, a plaintiff must prove that the health care provider did not meet the applicable standard of care for their field when prescribing medication for a similarly situated patient. If they can prove their case, parents may be able to recover damages for the harm that their child sustained. This may be substantial if the error caused a new condition that required medical attention. Compensation may cover treatment costs and any other out-of-pocket expenses, in addition to the physical suffering and emotional distress of the child.
Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Cases
Since most people would not know the specific standard for practitioners in a medical field, a plaintiff usually will need to retain an expert witness who can describe the standard and explain how the defendant failed to meet it.
Medical malpractice cases may require plaintiffs to meet specific procedural requirements. For example, they may need to file an affidavit or certificate of merit with the lawsuit, or soon afterward. This usually means that an expert has reviewed the materials in the case and concluded that malpractice likely occurred. A court may dismiss a case if it lacks an affidavit of merit or does not comply with other procedural rules. Thus, parents may want to consult a medical malpractice lawyer to ensure that they do not leave any stones unturned. These lawyers typically offer free consultations. Also, they usually handle cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that they do not get paid unless they get compensation for a client.