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$48 Million Verdict in Medication Overdose Death

In this medical malpractice case, the deceased’s estate sued the defendant for incorrectly administering medication and failing to treat the patient in a timely manner.

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on October 6, 2022

$48 Million Verdict in Medication Overdose Death

Case Overview

Case Name: Dwayne Anthony Murray, Individually, as an Heir, as Guardian and Natural Parent of Brooklynn Lysandra Murray, and as Special Administrator of the Estate of LaQuinta Rosette Whitley-Murray, deceased v. Valley Health System, L.L.C. dba Centennial Hills Hospital Medical Center

Case Type: 

  • Medical Malpractice – Nurse; Hospital; Delayed Treatment; Failure to Monitor; Failure to Communicate; Prescription and Medication
  • Wrongful Death – Survival Damages

Injury: 

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Drug overdose
  • Death

Plaintiff Attorneys:

  • David O. Creasy; The Gage Law Firm, PLLC
  • Dan Laird; Laird Law

Defense Attorneys:

  • Michael R. Prangle; Hall Prangle & Schoonveld, LLC
  • Jonquil L. Whitehead; Hall Prangle & Schoonveld, LLC

Case Outcome: Verdict – Plaintiffs

Verdict Award: $48,630,000

What Happened?

Centennial Hills Hospital admitted decedent, LaQuinta Whitley Murray (age 29 at the time) on April 20, 2013. LaQuinta had pain related to sickle cell anemia, acute chronic anemia, and a strep throat infection. The hospital’s staff then administered ketorolac tromethamine, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is commonly known by the brand name, Toradol. Mrs. Murray suffered from a severe decrease in kidney output and a critically elevated level of potassium. The nurse monitoring Mrs. Murray failed to immediately advise the doctor overseeing Mrs. Murray’s care until nearly two hours later. Mrs. Murray suffered five cardiac arrests and died four days later.

Allegations and Trial Testimony

Mrs. Murray’s widower, Dwayne Anthony Murray, filed a medical malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit against the hospital’s operator, Valley Health System, LLC, on behalf of himself, Mrs. Murray’s estate, and their minor daughter. The plaintiffs asserted that Valley Health’s staff incorrectly administered the Toradol to Mrs. Murray. According to the plaintiffs, the staff gave the medication too early on and in an amount that exceeded the maximum daily dose and black box warning approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The plaintiffs alleged that the improper administration of the drug caused a severe injury and shutdown of Mrs. Murray’s kidneys. Despite an order to monitor the input and output of fluids, the nurse allegedly failed to keep track of Mrs. Murray’s kidney outputs. This, in turn, further exacerbated the kidney injury. The nurse also allegedly failed to report the output decrease to the doctor.

The plaintiffs also allege that the nurse waited one hour and 50 minutes to advise the doctor of Mrs. Murray’s laboratory report. The report showed that a dangerously high potassium level also contributed to Mrs. Murray’s injuries and death. At trial, as well as at a previous deposition, the nurse on call testified that she did call the doctor concerning the critical laboratory values but did not enter the information until two hours later.

Staffing Complications

When Mrs. Murray’s condition became critical, the plaintiffs alleged that the hospital had a staffing crisis at the time. Therefore, the hospital did not have a sufficient number of experienced nurses. The plaintiffs asserted that this staffing issue was set forth in the hospital’s own incident report. Allegedly, Valley Heath also did not have a unit coordinator at the time. The plaintiffs argued that the hospital’s staffing shortages resulted in a lack of proper care, such as failure to conduct necessary tests, properly administer medication, and conduct a blood transfusion.

Valley Health impleaded Dr. Biran Vicuna and Dr. Mandip Arora as nonparty defendants. Dr. Vicuna is a hematologist whose partner oversaw Mrs. Murray’s care. Valley Health argued that the two doctors were responsible for Mrs. Murray’s death. According to Valley Health, the two were responsible for overseeing the administration of medication as well as monitoring her chart. The hospital denied that there was a staffing shortage during the pertinent timeframe. The hospital contended that any delay in treatment did not contribute to Mrs. Murray’s death. Valley Health also asserted the alternative defense theory that Mrs. Murray’s death was unrelated to anyone’s negligence, but rather, was a result of her sickle cell anemia.

Who Won the Case?

After a 10-day trial, the eight-person jury deliberated for four and a half hours before rendering a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. The jury found that Valley Health, Dr. Arora, and Dr. Vicuna all breached their respective standards of care. As a result, the jury found that all three caused Mrs. Murray’s death. The jury apportioned 65% fault to Valley Health, 25% fault to Dr. Arora, and 10% fault to Dr. Vicuna. Additionally, the jury found that Valley Health intentionally breached its fiduciary duty to Mrs. Murray. The jury awarded $16.21 million in compensatory damages and $32.42 million in punitive damages. Due to the finding that Valley Health intentionally breached its fiduciary duty, the compensatory damages are ineligible for a fault apportionment reduction. The total award amount for plaintiffs is $48.63 million.

Expert Specialties

In medical malpractice cases stemming from drug administration, experts in clinical and forensic toxicology can break down how exactly a patient was affected by the drug and at what level the drug rendered itself dangerous. In Mrs. Murray’s case, there were potential adverse reactions related to her sickle cell anemia diagnosis.

Key Takeaways

The events that ultimately led to Mrs. Murray’s death occurred in the time span of four days. As such, Mrs. Murray’s death is a testament to how rapidly a potential medical malpractice case based on the failure to administer the appropriate level of medication can unfold. Notably, the issue of hospital staffing shortages—described as a ‘“crisis”—also played a role in Mrs. Murray’s care and the claims of the case, which occurred in 2013. Almost a decade later, it is safe to say that staffing shortages in the healthcare industry are still a serious issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. To the extent that medication administration mistakes can occur due to a lack of experienced staff, it is worth it for both plaintiff and defense attorneys alike to explore the possibility of this issue in any medical malpractice/medication case.

Mrs. Murray’s case also sheds light on a concern of sickle cell anemia patients and the contraindications present in certain medications. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Dan Laird, also a pain medicine physician, noted that the verdict could serve as a landmark decision for the treatment of sickle cell patients. As Laird explains, “We believe that this case is going to improve the care for sickle cell patients worldwide because sickle cell patients are particularly susceptible to kidney damage from this drug, Toradol, and the use of Toradol in sickle cell patients needs to stop.”

“This tragic death was caused not only by multiple nursing errors, but also a hospital medication administration policy which saved the hospital money while knowingly putting its patients at risk,” said lead trial counsel, David Creasy.  “What was so shocking was the arrogance of the hospital when its witnesses testified at trial that it knew the risks of overdosing Toradol but would continue to use the existing policy moving forward.  It is only through a verdict like this that a hospital might reevaluate its position. This is why we go to trial on these types of cases, to obtain justice for the injured and hopefully to bring about change to prevent an injury like this from happening again in the future.”

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