VA Hospital Cleared of Liability in Vet’s Overdose

     (CN) – Two Veterans Administration doctors were not negligent in prescribing anti-depressants to a mentally ill veteran who died of a medication overdose, a federal judge in Dallas ruled.

     Freddie Tarver, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 1979, received treatment for hallucinations at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center in September 2004. During Tarver’s stay, Dr. Arif Khan prescribed Zoloft in addition to Depakote, which Tarver already was taking.
     Neither Khan nor Dr. Erika Navarro remembered warning Tarver or his family of possible “toxic interaction” of the drugs. Both doctors are psychiatrists.
     About two months after his release from the VA hospital, Tarver “was found dead in his car” from an overdose of medications including Depakote and Zoloft, according to court documents.
     Tarver’s family blamed Navarro for failing to recommend Tarver for the VA’s Community Support Treatment Program, which would have provided a case manager to monitor his medication through home visits a few days a week. But in is 28-page ruling, Judge Sidney Fitzwater found that Tarver had not been hospitalized often enough in the past year for him to be admitted to the program.
     “Plaintiffs have failed to prove that Drs. Navarro and Khan were negligent in failing to push or plead for Tarver’s inclusion in a VA program for which he did not qualify,” Fitzwater wrote.
     Fitzwater found that “Drs. Navarro and Khan were negligent in failing to inform and educate Tarver’s family concerning monitoring and supervision of medications, such as dosages, side effects, and warning signs of toxicity … but they failed to prove that their negligence was a proximate cause of Tarver’s death.”
     Fitzwater pointed out that medical examiner found that “Tarver died of an acute overdose rather than a chronic overdose, taken in a large amount at approximately the same time,” and that the Zoloft and Depakote did not interact; the Depakote levels were “not even high enough to be therapeutic.”
     Fitzwater dismissed the claim against the United States with prejudice.

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