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Criminal medical malpractice prosecutions increasing nationwide

It seems as if every state in the U.S., including New York, is experiencing an increase in medical malpractice lawsuits. While cases such as surgical mistakes get a lot of press, other cases are beginning to receive more attention. Claims of medical malpractice based on drug abuse or prescription drug overdoses are receiving increased scrutiny in our courts.

In the U.S., most medical negligence suits are traditionally handled in civil court. These suits usually seek monetary damages. If a doctor is found at fault, a monetary judgment may be awarded. While there may be professional implications for the doctor, the matter is otherwise brought to a close.

But a new trend seems to be appearing. Increasingly, doctors are facing criminal prosecutions. One example is the current legal problem facing Michael Jackson's doctor, who stands accused of involuntary manslaughter by killing the singer through an overdose of a powerful anesthetic. This particular doctor is one of a number facing criminal charges over how they handle prescription drugs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fatal overdoses caused by prescription medications and painkillers have tripled lately. It is estimated some 13,800 people have died because of improper use of prescription drugs. This data covers the years 1999 through 2006.

Some states, such as Georgia and Florida, are becoming increasingly aggressive when it comes to prosecuting doctors over abuses of prescription drugs. Nationwide, there were more than two dozen criminal cases brought against doctors for some form of medical malpractice during the years 1981 to 2001. From 2001 through 2011, that figure increased to 37 prosecutions.

While the number of criminal medical malpractice prosecutions is relatively low compared to the number of patients seen each year, it is still a concern. The fact remains that medical malpractice causing serious injury changes lives. In the case of a fatality, a life is cut short, and the family is left to mourn and wonder. In New York, an attorney devoted to helping victims and families pursue civil claims of medical malpractice against wrongdoers may help attain some measure of justice for unjust practices.

Source: Reuters, "More U.S. doctors facing charges over drug abuse," Sept. 14, 2011

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