Jackson County Jury Awards $500,000 to Widower

A recent development in the medical field is the field of pain medication doctors.  Because of the abuse of pain medications prescribed by doctors to their patients, many patients who are on monthly pain medication for a variey of ills, are now monitored and may be required to go to a pain doctor just for these medications.  As we can see from the incident below, not only should patients be monitored for their pain medication use, but the doctors who prescribe the mediations should be monitored as well.

A widower who had sued a North Alabama physician for the wrongful death of his wife in 2004, was awarded $500,000 by a jury on May 1, 2012.

Dr. Larry Keithley, a physician who practiced in Stevenson from 2002 to 2007, was sued by Danny Harding, the widower of Angel Harding.

Angel Harding died from an accidental overdose or accidental adverse drug reaction after being prescribed “dangerous amounts” of prescription drugs, states the court records.  Angel was 40-years-old at the time.

Patrick Lamar, the attorney representing Danny Harding, said Keithley had claimed he was treating Angel Harding for pain in order to prevent the activation of a condition he called atrial fibrillation.

However, according to medical records, Angel Harding’s health issues included an enlarged heart and seizures.  While under Keithley’s care, she was prescribed a variety of prescription drugs such as narcotic pain medications and central nervous system depressants.  Her medications from 2003 to 2004 included Valium, Xanax, Xanaflex, hydrocodone and trileptal.  Dr. Keithley also prescribe Demerol and Phenergan liquids for self-injections.  Demerol is similar to morphine.  Most patients receive only one type of pain medication a month, not a variety of pain medications.

Angel Harding was not medically trained and should not have been giving herself injections of pain medications.  The suit states that Dr. Keithley did not meet the standard of medical care by giving her this injectable pain medication.

In court records, Lamar said that Harding had been prescribed levels of narcotic pain medication and other addictive or habit forming drugs in such amounts that addiction to the drugs and a need for continued use at higher and higher levels was virtually assured.  Lamar said that this led to the development of pharmaceutically induced seizure disorder in Angel Hill Harding.

 Dr. Keithley’s attorneys argued there was no evidence that the dosing instructions by Keithley for the Demerol and Promethazine prescriptions, if followed, would have raised the drug concentration in Harding’s blood into a fatal range.  The defense attorneys said a claim for wrongful death due to medical negligence was barred by Harding’s own contributory negligence.

Keithley’s attorneys were disappointed with the jury verdict.  Harold Stephens, one of Keithley’s defense attorney, said they are certainly disappointed in the jury verdict and at this time were weighing options, including the possibility of an appeal.

In the complaint, it was noted that Angel Harding had a known predisposition for drug abuse, a diagnosed lack of mental ability to control her own daily affairs, and a serious, permanent cardiac rhythm disturbance.

In August of 2008, Dr. Keithley’s defense attorneys had asked to dismiss portions of the amended complaint claiming the new allegations were filed after the two-year statute of limitations period.  The plaintiff’s amended complaint included information concerning the anticoagulant prescription Warfarin and was filed approximately four years after Harding’s death.  The complaint stated that Keithley failed to provide adequate doses of Warfarin and monitor her coagulation status.

Harding’s attorney, Lamar, said he’s very pleased with the result and is waiting to see if Dr. Keithley’s attorneys appeal.  The defense team has 42 days from the verdict to appeal.

Wrongful death is defined as the taking of the life of an individual resulting from the wrongful, wanton or negligent act of another person.  Alabama statutes pertaining to wrongful death are unique in that they allow for punitive damages only.  This is done to punish the wrongdoer and also to deter him and others from similar future actions. 

In most cases, the time-frame in which to bring a wrongful death law-suit is two years from the victim’s death.  In this case, defense attorneys had asked to have a portion of the amended complaint dismissed because the allegations had been filed more than two years after Angel Harding’s death. It is important to contact an experienced wrongful death attorney soon after an accident in order to allow time to conduct a thorough investigation and to preserve evidence in the case.