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Kidney Damage From Gentamicin

February 10, 2020  ·  By HM&M


Gentamicin sulfate is a powerful antibiotic delivered intravenously to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and home healthcare settings to combat severe infections. Gentamicin is an effective treatment, but only when properly administered and monitored by a medical professional. Extended use, high dosages or improper prescription of other drugs in combination with gentamicin can result in serious and permanent personal injury.

For gentamicin to be used safely, health care professionals must carefully monitor the patient’s kidney function during gentamicin therapy and check for symptoms of nephrotoxicity (the poisonous effect of a medication on the kidneys), or ototoxicity (damage to the ear, including the auditory or vestibular system, by a toxin). Prior to placing a patient on gentamicin, the attending physician must determine the patient’s baseline renal function through laboratory testing, including measuring the patient’s serum creatinine and creatinine clearance.

An elevated blood creatinine level is a sign of damage to the cells of the kidney. A physician should not prescribe gentamicin to a patient with elevated blood creatinine levels—that patient is a great risk of further kidney damage and kidney failure due to gentamicin.

Once the patient is receiving gentamicin therapy, the attending and consulting physicians must closely monitor concentrations of the gentamicin in the patients’ blood to prevent the development of excess gentamicin blood levels. Close monitoring—at least every 48 hours during gentamicin therapy–can detect subtle rises in gentamicin levels and decreased renal function, which indicate excessive gentamicin buildup and developing kidney damage.

As the cells of the kidney become exposed to gentamicin, renal cell damage can occur, with loss of renal function. Because gentamicin is not metabolized, but is excreted in the urine, even a slight loss of renal function during a course of gentamicin therapy, without a decrease in the dose or discontinuation of the gentamicin, will lead to some increase in the average daily serum gentamicin concentration. Increasing serum gentamicin levels promote further nephrotoxicity, or kidney damage, and a vicious circle of increasing serum gentamicin levels and increasing nephrotoxicity results. In the event that signs of nephrotoxicity or ototoxicity appear in a patient undergoing gentamicin therapy, the patient’s physicians must immediately discontinue all gentamicin therapy to avoid permanent injury to the patient.

Damage caused by gentamicin poisoning can be catastrophic and permanent. For example, kidney damage caused by gentamicin poisoning may require a person to undergo kidney dialysis for life, which can cost millions of dollars. A person with permanent kidney damage due to gentamicin poisoning may also need one or more kidney transplants over a lifetime.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious side effects caused by gentamicin, you may be eligible to seek compensation for past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, permanent disability, lost income, and more. At Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C., we have substantial experience filing suits against negligent physicians, nurses, hospitals, nursing homes and home health care agencies on behalf of many individuals permanent injured by gentamicin poisoning. It is important to bear in mind that gentamicin lawsuits are subject to a statute of limitations, which restricts the time you have to pursue a claim. For this reason, it is important to seek the early advice of a qualified Chicago, IL medical malpractice lawyer who can help protect your legal interests.

At Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C., we provide a FREE, NO OBLIGATION consultation, allowing you to learn more about your legal rights and options. Pursuing your gentamicin claim will cost you nothing until we successfully resolve your case.

HM&M and Gentamicin Cases—An Example

Christopher T. Hurley and Mark R. McKenna successfully obtained $6.8 million verdict for a woman who suffered permanent kidney damage as a result of an improper prescription of gentamicin at a Chicago-area hospital and a nursing home. The jury heard testimony that HM&M’s client entered the hospital for treatment of an infected right knee replacement. An infectious disease specialist at the hospital prescribed a short course of gentamicin to treat the infection. The physician testified that he did not want the patient to get more than two days of gentamicin because the antibiotic medication is nephrotoxic, or toxic to the kidneys. The physician also testified that he did not want the patient discharged from the hospital on gentamicin because of the drug’s potentially toxic effects on the kidneys.

HM&M’s client was 81 years old and scheduled to undergo rehabilitation at a nursing home after her discharge from the hospital. The written discharge plan in the chart specifically stated that the patient was to only receive the intravenous antibiotic Vancomycin and the oral antibiotic Rifampin after discharge—the plan did not include the antibiotic gentamicin. However, a hospital nurse erroneously drafted a Patient Transfer Form that accompanied the patient from the hospital to the nursing home. The purpose of the transfer form is to inform the receiving facility–the nursing home–of the medications the patient is to receive after transfer. Regarding gentamicin, the nurse made a devastating error—she listed on the Patient Transfer Form: “gentamicin 120 milligrams, IV piggyback every 12 hours,” contrary to the physician’s discharge plan.

Based on the incorrect Patient Transfer Form, the staff at the receiving nursing home gave the patient a long course of gentamicin—ultimately over a week’s worth of the drug. The prolonged and unnecessary gentamicin therapy caused the patient to develop kidney failure and need lifetime dialysis.

HM&M’s client suffered a severe, life-altering injury. Her medical expenses were in excess of $1 Million. Hurley and McKenna determined that the case should be filed against three defendants: the hospital that discharged their client with an improper medication order, the nursing home that gave the prolonged course of gentamicin, and the physicians who were supposed to monitor the client’s condition during the gentamicin therapy.

At trial, HM&M elicited testimony from a top expert in nursing home and hospital administration that the defendant hospital’s nurse deviated from the standard of care by listing gentamicin on the plaintiff’s transfer form to the nursing home. This expert also testified that the nursing standard of care required a registered nurse to accurately convey information to a physician, and to properly transcribe medication information in a patient’s records.

HM&M presented testimony at trial which established that each dose of gentamicin had a toxic effect on the patient’s kidneys. Each unintended dose of gentamicin the plaintiff received after her transfer from the defendant hospital to the nursing home caused additional—and ultimately permanent—damage to the plaintiff’s kidneys. The plaintiff was forced to undergo kidney dialysis three days per week for the rest of her life.

HM&M assisted the jury’s understanding of the medical issues in the case by making substantial use of courtroom technology. For example, Chris Hurley “impeached” — or showed the falsity of – a hospital nurse’s testimony at trial by playing to the jury, on a 50 inch plasma screen television operated with specialized litigation software, the videotaped discovery deposition testimony of the same nurse recorded several years before trial. With this technology, the jury at trial was able to see for itself that the nurse had changed her testimony for trial, and that her body language and demeanor indicated that she was not being truthful to the jury. At the trial, HM&M also used an interactive touch screen SMART Board, which provided the trial lawyers with instantaneous access to every exhibit, trial graphic and video impeachment clip.

At the close of the evidence, Chicago, IL medical malpractice lawyer Chris Hurley gave his closing argument on behalf of the plaintiff to the jury. His plea was straightforward—the jury must fairly compensate the plaintiff when a plainly preventable recordkeeping error had cost the plaintiff the use of her kidneys for the rest of her life.

The jury awarded the plaintiff $3,200,000, itemized as follows: $1,900,000 for past and future pain and suffering; $1,000,000 for loss of a normal life; and $300,000 for disfigurement. The trial court had refused to permit the jury to award the plaintiff damages for the plaintiff’s past and future medical expenses.

Both the plaintiff and defendant hospital appealed. The plaintiff sought a new trial solely on the issue of the plaintiff’s medical past and future medical expenses. The defendant hospital argued that there was no proximate cause between the hospital’s negligence and the plaintiff’s kidney injuries.

Ultimately the Illinois Appellate Court issued its opinion in this case. The appellate court affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the injured plaintiff. The appellate court also reversed the trial court’s ruling which barred the testimony of plaintiff’s expert regarding the plaintiff’s past and future medical expenses, and ordered the trial court to hold a new trial regarding plaintiff’s past and future medical expenses only.

The defendant hospital, after a trial and an appeal, finally offered to resolve the plaintiff’s case through settlement. After a settlement mediation conference, the defendant hospital ultimately paid approximately $6,800,000 to resolve the plaintiff’s case. This case was an example of Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C.’s use of highly qualified medical experts, the latest courtroom technology, skill and determination to obtain a fair recovery for an individual whose life was permanently altered because of preventable Gentamicin poisoning.

To read the Illinois Appellate Court opinion on this case, click here.

A Sample of Our Successes

  • $6,800,000 – Verdict plus settlement on behalf of an 81 year old woman who suffered loss of her kidney function and needed permanent dialysis due to improper use of gentamicin at a nursing home. Our successful appeal after the verdict increased the amount recovered for the plaintiff from $3,200,000 to $6,800,000. Affirmed by Illinois Appellate Court.

For a free consultation, contact Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. today at 312-553-4900 or fill out our online form to have a lawyer contact you.

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