The New York Court of Appeals holds a physician is civilly and criminally liable for the opioid overdose deaths of his patients. It is the first time the NY High Court has used this legal theory in a homicide case.
Two patients of Dr. Stan XuHui Li died from prescription overdoses and he was found liable for criminally negligent manslaughter and criminal endangerment. The case has been on appeal for the past five years, during which time many health care lawyers, including myself, have been cautioning physicians in New York to drastically revise their prescribing practices.
While new guidance came in the interim from County Health Departments, State Health Departments, the AMA and CDC, among others, physicians were sometimes slow to adapt. At most, any who violated the guidance were exposed to civil liability and/or administrative discipline from licensing boards.
But the Dr. Li case changed everything when he was found criminally liable at trial for the deaths of two of his patients, and sentenced to over 20 years in jail. The appellate division affirmed, and now, so has the New York Court of Appeals, saying the deaths were the direct and foreseeable results of Dr. Li’s reckless prescribing practices.
The Court was unsympathetic to Dr. Li’s argument that the patients took the drugs doses in excess of what Dr. Li prescribed and ordered.
“Those who recklessly cause a death can be held criminally responsible, even if their conduct is disguised as a medical practice”