The prescription painkiller epidemic has led to more medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors for negligently prescribing pain medication. Those claims have begun to bleed into sports as well, with hundreds of former NFL players accusing the league and team doctors of illegally providing painkilling drugs to players and encouraging them to play despite serious injuries.
So can athletes sue doctors for prescribing opiates or painkillers? And what do they need to prove to win?
Pain and Painkillers
Doctors can be sued for overprescribing painkillers or if patients become addicted to opiates or other painkilling drugs. All physicians and medical professionals owe their patients a certain standard of care, and if they fall below it to the detriment of patient health they may be liable for medical malpractice.
When it comes to opiate addiction and painkiller prescriptions, current or former athletes would need to show that something about the drug prescription -- the type of drug, dosage, or failure to diagnose a developing addiction -- was a breach of the duty of care the doctor owed to the athlete. This liability may also apply to pharmacists and drug manufacturers as well.
The standard of care that doctors and prescribing professionals will be held to is that of similarly situated physicians in the same field. So if prescribing large amounts of opiates and painkilling drugs is the norm, it may be more difficult to prove a doctor acted negligently.
Prescription for Liability
Determining whether an injury or drug addiction was caused by a doctor's failure to exercise reasonable care will depend on a detailed discussion of an athlete's medical history and an analysis of injury records and medical care. There could be several factors that would indicate negligence on the part of a doctor when prescribing athletes with pain medication:
- The doctor prescribed a drug off-label, or to treat an ailment for which it has not been cleared by the FDA;
- The doctor prescribed too much of a drug;
- The doctor or pharmacist failed to check how painkillers would interact with other medication;
- The doctor ignored medical history involving painkiller use and/or abuse; or
- The doctor or the drug manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings about drug interactions, proper dosage, or addictive properties of the drug.
Medical malpractice can be complicated, requiring medical records and history, communications between and athlete and her doctor, the standard treatments for injuries, and alternatives. But these lawsuits may become more common as sports injuries, and prescriptions of pain medications to treat them, proliferate.
- Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- How to Treat Sports Injuries in Children Without Painkillers (U.S. News)
- Court: Painkiller Lawsuit Against NFL Teams Can Proceed (FindLaw's Tarnished Twenty)
- USC Settles Former Player's Toradol Lawsuit (FindLaw's Tarnished Twenty)
- Can I Sue My Doctor for Opiate Addiction? (FindLaw's Injured)