Detox Facilities: Are They Liable When Patients Suffer Serious or Fatal Harm?
A Human Rights Watch report on medical abuses in medical facilities, juvenile detention centers, orphanages, drug treatment centers and social rehabilitation centers indicated that patients in many of these settings are often subject to treatment that may sometimes rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment. While their report focused on severe abuses throughout the world, patients in the United States, from California to Tennessee, have also suffered from poor medical care and improper treatment in drug rehabilitation centers that, in some cases, has led to death.
“Patients enter rehabilitation centers to stop a pattern of harm,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis, “not to subject themselves to more.”
One recent example of problems in a drug treatment facility occurred when the mother of a deceased patient sued the largest drug rehab facility in Tennessee. Her son, a 20-year-old staying at New Life Lodge, was allegedly overmedicated by his physicians and was administered antihistamines although he had reportedly informed his doctors he was allergic to them. This overmedication and the lack of proper management of his care formed the basis of the lawsuit. It was also not the first time that New Life Lodge had been in trouble; the death of a 29-year-old mother earlier in the year had also led to a wrongful death claim.
Because of the two deaths at New Life Lodge, the state of Tennessee is now investigating the behavior of the facility to determine whether the drug rehab center is fulfilling its obligations to patients or whether they are breaching the duty of care owed under the law. Allegations of wrongdoing at New Life Lodge include claims that the facility is overcrowded; that patients are not properly supervised; that there are conflicts of interest; and that employees with drug problems work in the facility.
New Life Lodge is not the only drug treatment facility with problems either. In February of 2012, a mental health and rehabilitation center in West Virginia paid $1 million in damages to settle a lawsuit after they failed to identify or treat what turned out to be a fatal cocaine overdose. Likewise, in 2007, accusations were raised by the Medical Board of California against a California doctor offering "rapid detox" drug treatment when he released a patient despite ongoing flu-like symptoms that turned out to be caused by Pancreatitis and other health problems.
As with hospitals and doctors’ offices, drug rehabilitation centers have a duty to provide a level of care consistent with a reasonably professional standard and comparable to that given in the average facility. This duty extends to staff, as well. In California, the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs defines the treatment standards with which rehabilitation and detox centers must comply. If it is determined that a facility’s action’s fell below these standards and, consequently, caused a patient to suffer serious or fatal harm, the facility may be liable for medical malpractice.
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