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Insulin Overdose Medical Malpractice

Insulin and Diabetes

DiabetesInsulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body convert sugar, or glucose, from food into energy. After we eat, insulin is released to encourage sugar from the bloodstream to move into cells. People with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes do not manufacture enough insulin, resulting in dangerously high blood sugar levels.

Having too much glucose in the blood for long periods of time seriously damages the body. The pancreas overworks itself, causing permanent damage, and blood vessels can harden. Damaged blood vessels can result in kidney disease, strokes and heart attacks, poor circulation, and other complications.

Diabetes can sometimes be treated simply with healthy diet and exercise. In other cases, diabetes is treated with laboratory-produced insulin or other medications. With the use of insulin, people with diabetes are able to live much healthier lives. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 6 million Americans use insulin.

Insulin Overdose

When taken in the wrong amounts, insulin can cause serious harm. An insulin overdose overcorrects high blood sugar and causes blood sugar to fall below a healthy level. Symptoms of hypoglycemia, a condition caused by extremely low blood sugar, include anxiety, confusion, fatigue, trembling, extreme hunger, clammy skin, and irritability. Seizures, coma, and even death can follow if hypoglycemia is left untreated.

Once detected, hypoglycemia is treated easily with an intravenous sugar solution. It is common for diabetics to visit the emergency room for hypoglycemia after taking the wrong type of insulin (e.g. rapid-acting vs long-acting), confusing dosing units, or not eating enough food. Problems can also arise when doctors in hospitals and nursing homes fail to monitor a patient's blood glucose level and symptoms after administering insulin.

How Medical Negligence can Cause Insulin Overdose and Justify a Medical Malpractice Claim

Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is complicated. Blood sugar changes throughout the day in response to food intake, digestion, and activity. High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, is defined as above 180 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) after eating or above 130 mg/dL after not eating or drinking for 8 hours. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is defined as below 70 mg/dL. People with diabetes keep their blood sugar within these limits by managing food, exercise, and by using medications like insulin.

Millions of people monitor their blood sugar using special meters and self-administer insulin in their everyday lives. Hospitals and nursing homes administer insulin to their patients. Insulin overdoses that occur anywhere along the line are sometimes the result of medical negligence. Medical malpractice claims exist in order to compensate patients and their families for injuries and deaths that happen because of medical negligence.

Medical professionals in pharmacies, hospitals, and nursing homes are responsible for prescribing and administering the correct dosage of insulin to their patients. Additionally, hospitals and nursing homes should routinely monitor and record diabetics' blood sugar levels and watch for symptoms of hypoglycemia, especially after administering insulin. Proper monitoring will catch mistakes made in insulin dosing and identify symptoms of insulin overdose, allowing medical professionals to correct the problem before it escalates.

Failure by a medical professional to closely monitor diabetic patients' blood sugar frequently leads to medical malpractice claims. Mistakes in dosing, dispensing, and packaging insulin can also constitute negligence.

Sample Verdicts and Settlements

Below are summaries of verdicts and reported settlements from medical malpractice cases involving insulin overdoses.

  • 2015 Massachusetts: $2,000,000 Settlement - The plaintiff, a 46-year-old woman with Type 1 diabetes, is admitted to the ER in the evening with a blood pressure of 498 mg/dL. The defendant doctor administers 10 units of insulin. An hour later, a defendant hospitalist orders more insulin to be given to the patient. Three and a half hours in, the patient's blood sugar is reduced to 335 from the doctor's initial dose of insulin. The defendant nurse administers the hospitalist's additional insulin orders. At this point, the patient has received excess insulin, but still appears stable with normal vitals. Nobody monitors her blood sugar levels as the night goes on. In the early morning, she becomes unresponsive, has no pulse, and suffers hypoglycemic encephalopathy, a brain injury caused by severe hypoglycemia. Her blood sugar had dropped to 7 mg/dL. The plaintiff argues that the defendants both gave the decedent too much medication and failed to monitor her condition, resulting in her death a week later.
  • 2014, Iowa: $109,375 Verdict - An adult male is given insulin during a hospital stay. He becomes hypoglycemic and suffers a seizure which tears muscles and tendons in his right shoulder. The plaintiff claims that the defendant hospital improperly administered insulin and did not check his glucose level in time to prevent the injury. He also claims that a hospitalist or endocrinologist should have been consulted promptly. The defendant's employees are found to be negligent. The plaintiff is awarded $46,875 for compensatory pain and suffering, and $62,500 for hedonic damages, or loss of enjoyment or value of life.
  • 2013, North Carolina: $4,000,000 Verdict - At an acute care inpatient facility, the defendant doctor orders insulin glargine once a day at bedtime and insulin lispro four times a day for a male patient with a history of diabetes. The patient dies with a blood sugar of 27 the next morning. A medical malpractice lawsuit is filed against the nurse responsible for the patient, claiming that the nurse "failed to act in such a way to treat this matter as a life-threatening situation." According to the lawsuit, the nurse did not take emergency action, including failing to immediately contact the doctor, take notes, or call his emergency contact. Likewise, a lawsuit is filed against the doctor for not requiring the nurse to promptly alert him of emergencies. The jury finds that the defendants' negligence was the proximate cause of the patient's death and that the nurse breached her fiduciary duty to the patient.
  • 2008, California: $318,944 Arbitration - A 73-year-old male is in the defendant hospital's care. He has diabetes and is being treated with insulin. Instead of 8 units of insulin, a defendant nurse gives the him 80 units of insulin. That amount of insulin is a fatal dose, and the patient dies from respiratory distress following brain damage. The defense argues that since the nurse was under the impression that the patient was to receive 80 units, there was no negligence on her part. The plaintiff maintains that the decedent's death resulted from negligence and deviation from standards of care. The plaintiff is awarded a sum of $318,944 in damages.
Contact Miller & Zois About Insulin Malpractice

If you or a family member have been injured by an insulin overdose due to negligent medical care, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Call our medical malpractice attorneys today at 800-553-5053 or contact us online.

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