McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden is being sued by the husband of a woman who died while in the hospital’s care in early 2015.
The suit, filed in May, alleges negligence in the treatment of Renuka Biswas, a seventy-two-year-old with some history of memory problems and dementia, leading to her wrongful death. Three physicians and a nurse at McKay-Dee are also named individually in the suit.
Biswas fell and suffered a head injury on January 5, 2015, and was admitted to Logan Regional Hospital and later moved to McKay-Dee. According to family members, she had been improving and was scheduled to leave the hospital on January 10, but then she fell into what her family described as a catatonic state.
The family claims this coincides with the administration of Haldol, an antipsychotic medication. The exact reason she was given Haldol is not clear. Biswas died on January 12.
Prominent in the case is the fact that Haldol carries a black box warning. The FDA notes that this type of warning label “is designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks.”
In the case of Haldol, the FDA cautioned that 17 different studies had collectively shown that elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis, which Biswas had, have up to 1.7 times the risk of fatal side effects from the drug.
In addition, the label warned clearly that, for these patients, the drug should not be given by injection, which is how it was administered to Biswas.
It’s early in this case, and many things could change before it goes to trial, if it ever does. Many suits like this are settled before reaching a courtroom, or they are dismissed or withdrawn. At this time, however, the defense appears to be making several counterclaims.
For one, two of the physicians named in the suit have denied all negligence and stated that Biswas received Haldol to ease agitation, which they claim to be “an accepted ‘off-label’” use of the drug.
They’ve gone on to say that not giving her the drug would have been the more harmful act, that they were not aware of her dementia history, and that physicians have a right to choose from multiple treatment options.
Lawyers for the hospital have downplayed the warning intent of the black box labeling and have also suggested that Biswas, her husband, or other doctors who saw her previously could have been the real source of the negligence that contributed to her death.
We find this kind of victim-blaming shameful, but it’s a valid legal strategy under Utah law. If a defendant can prove a plaintiff partly responsible for an injury, the damage award will be reduced. And if the plaintiff is judged more at fault than the defendant, no damages will be awarded at all. So it’s not surprising to see this strategy used here.
Deciding to pursue a lawsuit for the wrongful death of a family member can be difficult, but it is often a necessary action. When a person is harmed, or even killed, by the negligence of another, it’s crucial that justice be served for all involved.
You might be tempted to just let things go because no lawsuit can bring a victim back to life. But we also need to think about the living, and protecting them from future negligence is one of the most important reasons for this type of lawsuit.
When you need help with a case involving a wrongful death, contact Craig Swapp & Associates for a free evaluation of your situation. Call 1-800-404-9000 or fill out the form below to schedule an appointment.