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Personal Injury Action Leads to Wrongful Death Action (NY)

June 21, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="">Halloran v Kiri</a></em>,<em> </em>plaintiff-decedent, who was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 2007 injuring her left shoulder, underwent a number of surgeries to treat the injury. Over the course of the 5 years leading up to her death, plaintiff-decedent received prescriptions for narcotic pain medication from her treating orthopedic surgeon, a pain management specialist, and two other doctors before beginning treatment with defendant Kiri. Her previous treating physicians denied her requests for further prescriptions when decedent exhibited opioid-seeking behavior. Decedent first presented to Dr. Kiri in August 2012 with complaints of chronic pain. Dr. Kiri initially refilled decedent’s high-dose oxycodone prescription, then switched to fentanyl patches, but discontinued the prescription when decedent claimed a skin rash. Ultimately, Dr. Kiri restarted the high-dose oxycodone prescription, and eventually began prescribing decedent Xanax for anxiety as well. Dr. Kiri treated decedent for 14-months until her fatal accidental overdose, never lowering decedent’s prescriptions despite personal notes in decedent’s file stating that medication needed to be lowered. Plaintiff’s family sued asserting causes of action for wrongful death, medical malpractice, negligence, and lack of informed consent. Defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the grounds that decedent’s death was not proximately caused by Dr. Kiri’s acts or omissions. The lower court denied defendant’s motion.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division, First Department, found that Kiri failed to meet his burden for summary judgment on causation as decedent's use of illicit drugs was not unforeseeable, and therefore her drug use was not an intervening cause and did not amount to a separate act of negligence that independently caused her death. The Appellate Division further found defendant’s policy argument that all doctors would have to become detectives before prescribing opioids unpersuasive, and opined that Kiri’s failure to obtain medical records, speak with decedent’s orthopedist, and heed signs of opioid abuse during his 14-month treatment of decedent raised an issue on deviation from accepted practice. Finally, the Appellate Division found that defendant’s expert’s opinions on informed consent were conclusory as they did not specify what risks should have been disclosed by Kiri to decedent before prescribing opioids and Xanax.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This is a case of first impression in the appellate courts providing a malpractice cause of action for victims of opioid over-prescription which, given the opioid crisis, is likely to be further expanded or defined as new cases make their way to the appellate courts.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Margaret Adamczak for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Georgia Coats</a> with any questions.</p>

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