April 21, 2016, was a sad day when thousands of music fans grieved the death of iconic American musician, Prince Rogers Nelson (better known as “Prince”). He mysteriously died in an elevator … until an autopsy report revealed his cause of death was accidental overdose of the opioid Fentanyl. An updated report now reveals that he had “exceedingly high” amounts of Fentanyl. But how did Prince get the highly potent drug? It’s one of many questions Prince’s siblings are wondering while they decide whether there is a viable wrongful death lawsuit against Prince’s treating physicians.
If you have lost a loved one and think you may have a wrongful death lawsuit, contact the Etengoff Pak Law Group today.
Is There a Potential Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If Prince’s death is caused by someone else’s negligence or intentional act, wrongful death laws give Prince’s siblings — as Prince’s surviving relatives and Trustees of Prince’s estate — a civil remedy. Every state has their specific wrongful death laws, but the general principles are essentially the same:
- The ones bringing the wrongful death lawsuit, called “plaintiff,” must have standing — the legal right to bring the suit. Usually, the plaintiff could be close family members or a representative of the decedent’s estate.
- The underlying claim must allege a tort, a negligent or intentional act, which caused the decedent’s death.
How Do You Prove a Wrongful Death Claim?
In order to succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiffs must prove that Prince’s death was due to someone else’s negligent conduct. The elements that must be proven are:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to Prince;
- The defendant breached that duty of care; and,
- That breach of duty directly caused Prince’s death.
Medical Malpractice: Prescription Drug Overdose
Treating physicians owe a duty of care to their patients. They have a legal obligation to provide their patients with the best care they reasonably can. When prescribing medications, the prescribing doctor must diligently review the patient’s medical history and current drug prescriptions. After examining the patient, the doctor must also conclude there is a legitimate reason for prescribing the drug.
The type of medicine and dosage prescribed should only be the type and amount that matches the patient’s medical needs. Doctors must also do their best to ensure that the patient is not abusing the drug, especially when the drug is of a highly addictive nature, such as opioids.
Doctors could breach their duty of care to their patients if they fail to warn of the prescribed drug’s dangers and addictive natures or if they overprescribe a drug. Sometimes, the medical error is accidental; but it could be from medical negligence. Medical negligence can occur if, for example, Prince’s doctors failed to take proper precautions to ensure that Prince would not have a bad reaction to the prescribed Fentanyl in combination with other prescription medications or otherwise have an adverse reaction. Courts will also hold the doctor responsible for the resulting death or injury if the doctor failed to properly monitor the patient taking the addictive drug.
Prince’s Death and Fentanyl Toxicity
The cause of Prince’s death was an accidental overdose of Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. It is also 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used to treat severe or chronic pain.
Interestingly, six days prior to Prince’s death, Prince was hospitalized for overdosing on opioids. Yet, there are still no answers as to the source of Prince’s Fentanyl that ultimately caused his death. There were two doctors — Michael Schulenberg and Howard Kornfeld (and his son Andrew)—who were under investigation. Prince’s estate could bring the civil wrongful death lawsuits against the physicians if they acted negligently and their conduct resulted in Prince’s death.
If You Have a Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Contact Us to Learn More
If you have questions about a wrongful death lawsuit, contact the Etengoff Pak Law Group for a free consultation.