Criminal Negligence in Healthcare Industry
Most doctors when they are charged with a crime usually act in a way that is in violation of the law, however they may also be charged for not acting when they should be acting. In a case of medical criminal negligence the doctor diverts so far from what is considered a traditional practice and because of this diversion the patient is seriously harmed or killed.
Some common mistakes that happen that can lead to a crime like negligent manslaughter could be acts like not properly screening patients, providing too much pain medications, or practicing outdated or improper procedures. When someone dies in a doctor’s care usually it will not meet the standards for criminal negligence unless the doctor was so negligent that they almost caused the death.
Cases usually arise in this field from patient’s families issuing complaints about the patients care leading up to their death. When a patient dies in the care and there was something that should have been done to prevent death or something that was done that lead to death it might prompt an investigation.
If you as a doctor are a suspect of negligently caring for your patient you should contact an attorney to help work through the investigation and any possible charges. While there is no specific crime called criminal negligence there are crimes that you may be convicted of that involve negligence and some of them come with quite severe sentences such as homicide charges.
Where you work may have their own representation that works for the hospital but it may be important for you to retain your own counsel. If you are charged with a crime the hospital or place you work may try distancing themselves from your activities so having your own representation could help you more than an attorney on retainer of your place of work.
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What is Criminal Negligence
Criminal negligence is not a specific crime but a mental state of a series of crimes. The idea of criminal negligence is that you were not intending a certain result but through your inaction or disregard of consequences something happened. When there is negligence it is assumed that the negligent actor should have known of the consequences.
For every crime there needs to be an act or omission and culpable intent. In the case of criminal negligence the act or omission is usually practicing in a way most doctors would not act or not acting when you were supposed to and because of that the patient is injured or killed. The culpable intent these crimes is negligence which means you do not need to want the result only that you should have known the result was likely with your action or inaction.
The main charge you will see in a case of medical negligence is a homicide based charge when an patient dies as a result of interactions with medical professions. Negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter charges are the most common negligent based claims you may face as a doctor.
Charges are not often raised against doctors but when they are it is important to know how to defend against such charges. Investigations into a death of a patient can lead to a charge against you so it is important to retain an attorney and to know and assert your rights.
An investigation may be performed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, or the Drug Enforcement Agency if there were drugs involved. Questioning involved in a negligent homicide case will most likely make or break a case so you should always have an attorney present for questioning.
Effects of Criminal Negligence
The main crimes that you will be charged with for being negligent are the homicide crimes of manslaughter. Federal manslaughter charges may be pressed on you if you are so negligent and someone in your care dies.
18 U.S. Code § 1112 – Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another without malice. Manslaughter comes in two forms voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter is extremely unlikely in a negligent case because it involves killing under the heat of passion or in other words you were provoked.
Involuntary manslaughter is more common to be charged with for negligence because it involves the act of killing during the commission of an unlawful act or acting without due caution. There are several ways a doctor may be acting unlawfully like practicing without a license. Without due caution is how most negligent deaths will be prosecuted because the doctor would not have been exercising proper caution that could have caused death.
The punishment for involuntary manslaughter is up to 8 years imprisonment and the possibility of fines. There is a chance if your lack of care for a patient was so egregious that they can find some level of intent for the death of a patient you may be charged with 2nd degree murder which has a maximum of a life sentence.
Besides your criminal charges you will most likely be sued for medical malpractice by patients or their family for your acts of negligence in care. These civil cases can get complicated and working with a criminal and civil case it is important to understand how each case will affect the other.
You might lose your medical license and not be able to practice medicine if the medical boards in your state takes away your license. If you lose your license or have the reputation of criminal negligence you will most likely not be able to work in the medical field any more or have an extremely hard time practicing.
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Importance of Defense
The severe consequences imposed on you if you are found to have negligently treated a patient to the level of criminal negligence can land you in jail, end up with you losing your license, and facing a major malpractice lawsuit. You should get ahead of any allegations of criminal negligence by hiring an experienced attorney to defend you.
If you are prescribing drugs to a patient and due to the drugs interactions with the patient or the patients abuse of the drugs they end up dying you may become under investigation. Doctors come under scrutiny for prescribing certain drugs in excess which lead to death. It is important to work with your attorney to determine what precautions you took in prescribing and explaining what instructions you told your patient.
You might not be negligent for your patient’s actions or for their failure to disclose things like allergic reaction potentials. Your attorney will work with your facts to help describe your actions and inactions and explain why they do not meet the high burden of criminal negligence.
Medical standards are also always changing and there is a level of discretion afforded to doctors in choosing the procedures and practices they feel is best for the patient. When someone dies there might be other procedures or practices that might have saved them, however that is not the standard for criminal negligence.
Criminal negligence is less about discretion and more about doing something that is so far removed from common practices of medical professionals. In a case against you for negligence it is important to work through common procedures and practices to show compliance with those practices.
You also may face several criminal charges if your patients died while in your care. It is important to understand what each crime involves and working to combat each individual charge. There is a chance that you might be charged with several lesser inclusive charges that may be dropped if you are convicted of a higher crime. Your attorney should work to combat each charge and work on lowering any charges that they can at the onset of being accused.
Procedure and Process
When an individual is harmed or dies in your custody as a medical professional there could be an onset investigation that begins to find out the details of what happened. For this reason it is always important to keep proper records to show what you did and how you tried to help the patient.
Sometimes a medical malpractice lawsuit may tip off investigators to look into a doctor’s practice to see if the doctor’s actions rise to criminal negligence. Most claims will likely not reach criminal negligence but it is important to make sure you have an attorney for the investigation process to help your odds.
If you are under investigation for criminal negligence it is important to know your rights. During an investigation you may retain an attorney and that attorney may be present for all questioning. If you are questioned by the authorities you have the right to remain silent to not incriminate yourself and you have the right to speak to an attorney.
If the government thinks that your actions equated to criminal negligence you might end up facing charges. When you are charged formally you should work with your attorney to understand the charges such as involuntary manslaughter. If you are charged at any point you may enter into a plea deal with the prosecutor, however it is advised that you speak to an attorney before entering into such a deal.
After charges are brought there will be a grand jury hearing where the grand jury will decide if there is enough evidence to indict you. This hearing will present evidence and make the determination if there is enough evidence to possibly prove the charges. There is a chance to get the charges dropped during the grand jury hearing so you should work with your attorney toward this goal.
When and if you are indicted it will begin formal judicial proceedings including a trail. You should work with your attorney on all pretrial procedures to try and make your best chance on having the charges dropped or being prepared for trial. Your attorney should be reviewing all of the evidence and preparing the best defense for a trial.
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Recent Cases and Their Impact
Cases of criminal negligence are not extremely common but when they happen they are often highly publicized and garner high levels of attention. Cases usually involve some level of outrageous conduct that results in the death of a patients.
One of the most famous cases was the criminal prosecution of Michael Jackson’s doctor Conrad Murray who helped cause the death of Michael. Conrad was convicted of involuntary manslaughter when he continuously prescribes propofol to Michael Jackson to help with sleep issues. After prolonged use of this drug Michael died and the jury found that Conrad Murrays actions of overprescribing this drug lead to his death and he was criminally negligent in the death.
Over prescription of OxyContin could also lead to involuntary manslaughter charges. Dr. Robert Rand was sentenced to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and for unlawful distribution of OxyContin. The patient was known to have abused narcotics before the prescription and it was held that when the doctor wrote the prescription he was grossly negligent and lead to the patient overdosing.
The Adomako case in 1994 helped to set a four point standard to see if a medical practitioner committed negligent manslaughter. The four factors are:
1. The doctor owed the patient a duty of care
2. The doctor breached the duty of care
3. The breach caused the patient to die
4. The breach was grossly negligent.
These questions of gross negligence would be left to a jury to determine. It is this standard that is used in these gross negligence cases where someone dies and it traditionally is a hard to meet standard.
Proactive Advice and What to Do if Accused
If you as a medical professional want to avoid the possibility of criminal negligence it is important to always treat your patients with a high level of care. In addition you should always keep detailed recordings of your interactions and procedures.
If you are suspected to be the one responsible for the death of a patient you should contact an attorney to represent you. The level of criminal negligence is a high bar to meet and with your attorneys help and guidance you might be able to defeat these charges.
You attorney may be able to answer any questions regarding common medical practices to make sure you are in compliance with the negligence standards of care. As a health care professional you should be reviewing current practices and procedures and always making sure to provide a high level of care to your patients.
If you are under investigation or charged with a criminal negligence crime like involuntary manslaughter you should speak to a lawyer. If you are proactive and work with your attorney you may be able to avoid charges or lessen the severity of any charges. Communicating with the authorities might end up with you accidently incriminating yourself so having an attorney might help you avoid common pitfalls during questioning.
Your medical career may be on the line as well as your freedom it is important to have strong representation that will help you get to the bottom of these allegations and defeat them. You need an attorney that understands the intricacies of the law will help you plan a customized best course of action for you.
For criminal negligence the government needs to prove that you were so negligent in the care of your patients so you need to work with your attorney to combat these allegations. Get ahead of the allegations against you and get an experienced attorney that will make the difference in your medical criminal negligence case.