Lawsuit: St. Luke's Sugar Land Hospital pain killer overmedication causes patient death


St. Luke's nurses gave a 75-year-old patient 2-4 times the recommended dose of the narcotic Dilaudid

June 10, 2014

The Houston medical malpractice lawyers at Painter Law Firm filed a lawsuit, on behalf of the family of Nell Kerr, against St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital and two doctors. The was filed in the 270th District Court of Harris County, Texas, with Judge Brent Gamble presiding.

In June 2012, Nell Kerr was an otherwise healthy 75 year old woman who saw an orthopedic surgeon, for back pain and numbness in her fingers. He recommended an anterior cervical fusion surgery at St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital.

The cervical fusion surgery itself was unremarkable, but starting in the recovery room, the surgeon, a hospitalist doctor, and the nurses at St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital grossly overmedicated Mrs. Kerr with the powerful narcotic pain killer Dilaudid (also called hydromorphone).

The manufacturer’s label for Dilaudid warns that it can cause drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can be deadly for patients confined to bed after a surgery. No doubt, that is why St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital placed a pre-printed dosage chart in Mrs. Kerr’s medical records that specifies the Dilaudid dosage.

For a patient of Mrs. Kerr’s weight, the Dilaudid dosage chart says that she should have been given 0.5 mg. Instead, though, the surgeon ordered four times that amount, 2.0 mg, after surgery. The St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital nurses administered that overdose level with “no questions asked.”

Two days later, the nurses noticed that Mrs. Kerr’s speech was garbled and she was drowsy and lethargic. The surgeon responded by ordering another powerful pain medication, Toradol, but did not stop the Dilaudid prescription.

The next morning, the St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital nurses and the hospitalist physician wrote in the medical records that Mrs. Kerr had a fever, was lethargic, not alert and had incomprehensible speech. Incredibly, the hospitalist noted that her symptoms were probably because of narcotic pain medications, but then only reduced her Dilaudid dosage to 1.0 mg—still double the dosage allowed by the St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital pre-printed chart.

All along, the nursing staff ignored the dosage schedule and administered these high doses of Dilaudid to Mrs. Kerr, without regard for her safety.

According to our expert critical care doctor, the Dilaudid warning label eventually came true in Mrs. Kerr’s life—she became nauseated and then breathed the vomit into her lungs. She developed aspiration pneumonia, which has a high death rate in elderly patients. Mrs. Kerr never recovered, and passed away on September 13, 2012.

If you or someone you care about has suffered from overmedication in a hospital, nursing home or rehabilitation center setting, contact the Texas medical malpractice lawyers at Painter Law Firm, at 281-580-8800, for a complimentary evaluation of your potential case. 

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.


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