Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (5)4 Apr 97


   Quick Summary: A healthcare facility is legally responsible for anticipating the possibility of tampering.

   Steps must be taken to prevent a demented individual from being able to injure a specific patient or an anonymous patient through intentional tampering with drugs or supplies.

   Anesthesia drugs, supplies and IV fluid bags must be stored securely under lock and key. NEW YORK SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION, 1996.


   Hospitals and other healthcare facilities must anticipate that they can be held legally responsible in a civil lawsuit for negligence, if intentional tampering with drugs or supplies results in injury to a patient, according to the ruling in a recent case from the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division.

   In this case, two patients went into respiratory paralysis during surgery, at the same time in adjoining operating rooms, because Pavulon, a neuromuscular blocking agent, had been injected into their IV fluid bags while the bags were in storage prior to the procedures. The patients were revived from paralysis, but later sued. Police detectives found discarded vials and IV fluid bag wrappings in the unlocked storage rooms in the surgery department.

   In this case, the room where anesthesia drugs and supplies were stored should have been kept securely locked, according to the court. Merely having a hospital policy that access to drugs and supplies is restricted only to authorized personnel is not sufficient, the court said.

   The court’s ruling was about Pavulon vials and IV fluid bags, but it has a much broader applicability. That an intentional criminal act has been committed does not necessarily absolve a healthcare facility from responsibility for protecting its patients. The court ruled a healthcare facility can be liable in a patient’s civil lawsuit for a criminal act of tampering, even by a mentally ill person, if the hospital has failed to anticipate the possibility and has not taken precautions against it. Morris vs. Lennox Hill Hospital, 647 N.Y.S. 2d 753 (N.Y. App., 1996).