Jury Finds Physician Negligent for Failing to Realize Drug Contraindication

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In this month’s case, a physician’s medication choice cost him a great deal after his patient suffered permanent disability.

Doctor F was a primary care physician who shared a small practice with 2 other physicians. He saw patients of all ages; many of his patients had been with him for years. One such patient was Mrs B. The 65-year-old had been Dr F’s patient for the past 8 years. Her husband was also a patient. Mrs B had high cholesterol, which was being treated with simvastatin, and suffered from seasonal allergies, for which she was occasionally prescribed a nasal steroid. 

One afternoon Mrs B came in for an appointment with the physician. She had been feeling under the weather and described her symptoms to the physician, which included a sore throat lasting almost a week, as well as a cough.

Doctor F questioned her about the nature of the cough, and she described it as productive. The physician suspected an infection and prescribed clarithromycin.

Three weeks later, Mrs B began experiencing pain and weakness in her legs. At first, she thought that maybe she had overdone it. She and her husband were athletic and had just returned from a ski trip. But the pain and weakness did not feel like the usual after-exertion tiredness, and resting did not help.

Within days Mrs B became bed-ridden and unable to walk. Her husband took her to the local hospital. At the hospital a nurse took a full history of Mrs B’s prescription medications and noted that the patient took simvastatin for hypercholesterolemia. When the hospital’s physician asked Mrs B about recent illnesses, she mentioned that she’d had a sore throat and cough a few weeks ago for which she’d taken clarithromycin.

Mrs B was subsequently diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis and statin toxicity. She was admitted to the hospital and treated with IV fluids. There was concern about her kidney function being impacted, but her lab results improved over the next few days. She was released from the hospital, but the rhabdomyolysis had permanently affected the muscles of her legs.

Formerly an avid skier and hiker, Mrs B had been looking forward to enjoying an active retirement with her husband. Now she was largely confined to a chair or walking with a cane. She remembered someone in the hospital talking about a poor choice of antibiotic made by her PCP, Dr F. Mrs B decided to consult with a plaintiff’s attorney to see if Dr F might be liable for her harm.