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Nursing Home Medication Errors

When we place our elderly loved ones in a nursing home, we expect them to receive first-class medical care in their twilight years. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Some families are shocked to learn that their loved one’s condition has deteriorated or, worse, that they’ve lost their lives due to medication errors made by the nursing home staff.

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Should such a tragedy occur, your family has every right to seek maximum compensation for the damages with the help of a competent medical malpractice attorney. For more than two decades, our lawyers have been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of retirement home and long-term care residents throughout Illinois. We’ve successfully handled all sorts of medical negligence lawsuits throughout the years, including those relating to medication errors.

With extensive experience and a wealth of resources at our disposal, our lawyers have the expertise to take on even the most complex nursing home abuse cases.

Call us for a free consultation regarding your case and let our attorneys explain your legal rights.

Why Do Medication Errors Occur in Nursing Homes?

2016 study published in the Global Journal of Health Science found that the most common cause of medication errors in nursing was tiredness due to an increased workload (97.8%), and in nursing students the most common cause was drug calculation errors (77.4%).

Other causes include:

  • Inadequate supervision of the care process
  • Failure to report medication errors
  • Miscommunications between nursing home staff
  • Fatigue due to high workload
  • Low nurse to patient ratio
  • Inexperience, which may lead to drug miscalculations
  • Failure to warn patients about the drug’s adverse effects
  • Unreadable or damaged medication labels from doctors
  • Poor environmental conditions like lights or temperature
  • Administering medication to the wrong patient
  • Improper drug labeling or packaging

Medication errors in nursing homes span from minor mistakes to severe negligence, sometimes leading to life-threatening consequences.

Medication Errors include:

  • Administering a drug outside the recommended time frame
  • Failing to mix the medication correctly
  • Prescribing or administering medications that aren’t meant to treat the patient’s condition(s)
  • Drug interactions
  • Failing to give the patient the last few doses of medication (underdose)
  • Administering, prescribing, or dispensing the wrong medication
  • Prescribing the wrong dosage of the proper medication
  • Giving the nursing home resident expired medication
  • A caretaker leaving without confirming the medication was taken
  • Administering an unauthorized drug

How Common Are Medication Errors?

Although the rate of medication errors in Illinois is slightly lower than the national average, it’s still a significant cause for concern. A single mistake when administering medication can have devastating consequences. According to Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouckon, in 2014 Illinois had a “9% facility citation rate for medication errors.”

And data from the Illinois health department noted that there were 384 medication errors between 2011 and February of 2014, causing some nursing home residents to be hospitalized with severe symptoms, including respiratory issues and blood sugar imbalance. Two nursing home residents died and one required amputation as a result of medication errors.

Drugs that are commonly erroneously administered in nursing homes include:

  • Insulin
  • Anti-seizure medicines
  • Diuretics
  • Anti-coagulants
  • Pain management medicines
  • Antidepressant and antipsychotic medicines

What Is Considered a Medication Error?

The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention defines a medication error as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer.”

Criteria for a medication error include:

  • It must have been preventable
  • It must have caused harm to the patient
  • The medication must have been in the control of the medical caregiver, patient, or consumer

Knowledge-Based Errors

Knowledge-based medication errors occur when the healthcare provider prescribes, dispenses, or administers the wrong dose due to a lack of familiarity. For example, a knowledge-based error may occur when a physician prescribes penicillin without establishing whether the patient is allergic.

Rule-Based Errors

A medication error may be deemed rule-based if the medical provider misapplies rules when administering, prescribing, or dispensing drugs to a patient. For example, the error may surface when the caregiver injects medication into the lateral thigh instead of the buttock.

Memory-Based Errors or Lapses

These errors occur when a healthcare provider forgets a crucial detail about the patient or the medication. This may happen when a medical professional knows a patient is allergic to penicillin, for example, but forgets and administers the antibiotic.

Action-Based Errors or Slips

Action-based errors occur when a medical professional performs actions they did not intend to. An example would include a doctor writing acetazolamide on a prescription when they intended to write acetohexamide.

Consequences for Nursing Home Residents

Adverse events that result from medication errors range from mild to severe and include death. According to the World Health Organization, “unsafe medication practices and medication errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in health care systems across the world.”

Nursing home residents who are affected by a medical provider’s mistakes when administering medication suffer reactions that include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Worsening of the existing condition
  • Physical pain
  • Infection
  • Emotional distress
  • Tremors
  • Coma
  • Brain damage
  • Heart attack
  • Paralysis
  • Stroke
  • Orthostatic hypotension
  • Death

This list is not exhaustive. The authors of a 2012 review of medical charts that documented a medication error stated that “ADEs (adverse drug events) manifest in a number of ways, ranging from mild allergic reactions to anaphylaxis to death. One study estimated that the increased risk of death for a patient who experiences an ADE is nearly twice that of a patient who does not. Another study estimated that 9.7 percent of ADEs caused permanent disability.

Preventing Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

The FDA offers guidelines for reducing medication errors. A nursing home staff member should follow these guidelines to ensure the safety of all residents.

  • Keep drugs stored in their original containers. Keeping medications in their original bottles will help staff members avoid mixing up pills, especially those that look similar.
  • Document each drug administered. Each member of the care team should make a habit of accurately recording medication information for a trouble-free future. For example, they should note details like the drug’s name, recommended dose, time, patient response, route, etc.
  • Inform residents of the drugs they’re taking. Your care team is obligated to ensure that you know the names of your medications, the colors, how to take them, the dosage, what they look like, and potential side effects.
  • Use an error-reporting system. Documenting and analyzing the drug errors in the facility can help the care team investigate, detect, and correct the root cause of any medication errors.
  • Implement continuous training. Nurses and other staff should be educated on each new type of drug introduced in the facility. This ensures they understand protocols, procedures, and policies for administering, prescribing, or dispensing such drugs to avoid errors.

What Should the Nursing Home Staff Do if a Medication Error Occurs?

Medication errors aren’t uncommon in nursing home settings. But the actions taken after the incident occurs will have an impact on the facility’s finances, reputation, and legal liability.

In the event of a medication error, it’s important that nurses and caregivers take precautions:

  • Notify the nursing home resident and their family. Many caretakers are reluctant to inform patients and their families of the clinical oversight, fearing that they may damage their reputation or increase their chances of being held liable.
  • Inform the nursing home and the care team. Informing the care team will ensure that they are adequately prepared to handle any adverse outcomes from the medication error and can prevent future mistakes from occurring.
  • Document the error and report it to the facility’s safety committee. This is crucial to avoiding further complications to a resident’s care.

Lawsuits Regarding Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Medication errors are classified as medical malpractice. Therefore, if you or a loved one is a victim of a medication error in a nursing home it’s important to contact an attorney. They can investigate: The existence of a patient-doctor or patient/nurse relationship

  • The standard of care that the nurse owed your loved one
  • If the standard of care was breached
  • If negligence on the part of the nursing home staff contributed to the injuries

What Damages Can I Recover in a Medication Error Lawsuit?

Typically, you can recover three types of damages in a medication error claim: economic, non-economic, and punitive.

Economic Damages

These are financial expenses incurred or wages lost due to the nursing home’s medication error. They may include income loss, medical costs, private caregiver costs, future medical expenses, or special equipment, such as a wheelchair. Economic damages may also include funeral expenses, the loss of direct financial support, or the loss of benefits such as insurance coverage.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are awarded to offset or compensate for the victim’s pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional anguish, shortened life expectancy, increased risk of future harm, or other forms of suffering.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded to punish the nursing home for their blatant negligence or intentional act.

Who Is Liable for Medication Errors?

Legally, a nursing home is fully liable for its employee’s actions. However, liability depends on the specific circumstances. If a doctor wrote a prescription wrong or a pharmacist made a mistake when filling the prescription, they may also be liable for the error. In cases where the medication was administered erroneously, the nurse or the facility may be held liable.

How Can a Nursing Home Medication Error Lawyer Help?

If your loved one has been a victim of a medication error in a nursing home, an experienced Chicago nursing home abuse attorney from Levin & Perconti can help. We’re a team of self-motivated and result-driven lawyers committed to ensuring that you receive maximum compensation for your loss.

We are a nationally recognized law firm with over 200+ years of combined experience. Our founding partners are pioneers in nursing home litigation, filing some of the first lawsuits on behalf of injured residents and their families. Due to our many years of experience handling these types of lawsuits, we’ve acquired an unmatched knowledge of federal and state nursing home laws and our effective and aggressive approach to each case delivers top results. We will never settle your case for less than fair compensation, and we are not afraid to go to trial.

Our nationwide network of experts further strengthens our clients’ cases, and our vast financial resources allow us to apply the funds necessary to properly litigate each case.

Some of our most notable medication error results include:

$1.035 million


nursing home medication error settlement for the family of a resident who died as a result of the nursing staff’s failure to chart or administer her prescription medication



for the family of a resident who died when nursing home staff failed to properly administer his cancer medication and failed to ensure that he made follow-up visits with his oncologist. These failures caused his cancer to spread and led to his death



nursing home lawsuit settlement for the family of a former Lincolnwood Place resident who died after suffering a stroke as a result of the nursing home’s failure to properly administer her blood-thinning medication