May 14th, 2008

Dennis Quaid Testifies Before Congress

I’d previously written of how Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins were victimized by malpractice when they received a massive overdose of heparin.

And I’d also written how he sued Baxter Healthcare over the mix up.

Today he testified before Congress. This is the most important quote:

“Like many Americans, I believed that a big problem in our country was frivolous lawsuits. But now I know that the courts are often the only path to justice.”

Those who advocate tort “reform” generally have this in common: They’ve not been seriously hurt by someone else’s negligence and never imagine it can happen to them.


December 4th, 2007

Dennis Quaid Sues Baxter Healthcare Over Heparin Label Mixup for Twins

Actor Dennis Quaid has brought suit against Baxter Healthcare. Last week I wrote of the medical malpractice that had been committed against his hospitalized newborn twins and the labelling issues, when an adult dose of the blood thinner Heparin was used instead of an infant dose. There was a 1,000x difference in the dosages. The labels are similar, the adult dose was apparently stored in the pediatric area, and someone didn’t look close enough at the vials.

Now, according to TMZ, Quaid has sued. But only sued Baxter, and not the hospital. The Complaint is here: Quaid-Complaint.pdf. There are two causes of action: One for strict liability and one for negligence.

A few thoughts on this:

  • Quaid’s kids presumably don’t need the money from any suit, so it isn’t “just about the money.” This makes life much more miserable for Baxter;
  • The twins, while critical for awhile, are apparently OK now. So it really isn’t about the money;
  • By not also suing the hospital where it happened (Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles), the defense has the “empty chair” defense easily at hand. That is, you point the finger at any party that is not in the courtroom. (That’s why so many people often get sued after an incident. To make sure the empty chair defense isn’t available to defense counsel.)
  • The case was brought in state court in Illinois, not out in Los Angeles. Illinois is the location of Baxter’s corporate office. Since California has tort “reform” that provides immunities for many defendants (or at least they do in med mal) this might be the rationale for the choice of court. (I’d like to see what California attorneys have to say on that.)

So why wasn’t the hospital sued? My guess is that it’s because they apologized. While many doctors/hospitals still cover-up mistakes (see: Medical Malpractice and The White Coat of Silence) others have come to realize that the simple human acknowledgement of error goes a long way. On the subject of apologies, I wrote back on April 11:

I’ve always believed, based on the manner in which calls come in to my office, that poor communication (bad bedside manner) is the primary reason patients call attorneys. They are angry, or confused, or both.

Now, from an AP story, we find that the hospital had acknowledged the error and apologized. But what did Baxter do? Well, it seems they issued a warning letter to healthcare workers earlier this year. But starkly missing appears to be the human elements of accountability, contrition and acknowledged wrongdoing. And I’m guessing that the Quaid family will start pushing till they get that. Publicly. Because that’s one of the best ways to see that it doesn’t happen to someone else’s kids.

(hat tip: TortsProf)


November 27th, 2007

Dennis Quaid’s Newborn Twins Victimized by Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can happen to anyone. And last week while we celebrated Thanksgiving, actor Dennis Quaid was running back and forth to the hospital because it happened to his two-week old twins when they received a massive overdose of a drug. And it happened at the well-regarded Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

Now the kids will hopefully be OK despite this, as the overdose was realized and an antidote given. But it’s a good lesson on how to make improvements in the mechanic of how hospitals work and how drug companies package their products. If only people would listen.

The kids had IV lines flushed with Heparin, a blood thinner. They were supposed to be flushed with an infant’s dose of 10 units/ml. But they got an adult’s dose of 10,000u/ml instead. So they received a 1,000x overdose. Oops.

And worse yet, the hospital had previously been warned by the FDA of the potential for mix ups between these two doses.

Here are the questions for the hospital and the drug manufacturer:

What were the adult strength drugs doing in the neonatal unit?
Why do the bottles look the same?
Why weren’t there precautions in place to separate out different dosages?
Why were FDA warnings ignored?

At EverythingHealth (via Grand Rounds at Prudence), Dr. Toni Brayer writes:

The way to prevent these errors and “near-misses” is to put processes into place in health care like we do in aviation safety. Make it hard to do the wrong thing. Labels should have “red alerts” to show different strengths. The background colors on the bottles should be different and the font size needs to be increased. Look alike drug names should be differentiated by using TALL LETTERS. (glipIZIDE vs. glyBURIDE). The bottles should look completely different so it is obvious to every care giver…whether stocking a med cart or administering a medication.

If you think this is a rare occurrence, think again: Each year there are over 1.5 million medication errors in the United States, and as many as 7,000 people will die from them. And our children are the most likely victims (see: Children Are Most Likely Victims of Surgical Medication Errors).

But sometimes, it takes celebrity misfortune to bring home the reality of the problem.

For more:

(Eric Turkewitz is a personal injury attorney in New York)
Update (12/4/07): Dennis Quaid Sues Baxter Healthcare Over Heparin Label Mixup for Twins