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Connie Schaefer

Legal Nurse & Associates, LLC

Favacon Blue

Legal Nurse Solution

Connie Schaefer

Legal Nurse & Associates, LLC

A Commentary From The Trenches: Nurse Convicted Of Criminal Murder By Committing A Medication Error

Published In The Journal Of The Kansas Trial Lawyers Association - Aug 2022
A Commentary From The Trenches: Nurse Convicted Of Criminal Murder By Committing A Medication Error

I would have never dreamed a nurse would be convicted of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult by committing a medication error! Every nurse in the world is seriously alarmed and agitated by this turn of events. Medication errors are unnecessary, yet regrettably happen all the time. Fortunately, most medication errors do not cause harm, and are therefore, used as educational opportunities to prevent these errors from happening again.

Never will I forget the humorous medication error my fellow nursing student made, more than 40 years ago!! She inadvertently gave a rectal suppository ORALLY! She even broke the suppository in half because it was too large to swallow!! Yes, that is funny, but it did not cause any harm because both routes involve the mucous membranes, and the medication was dispensed regardless. In all her humiliation, she had to call the attending physician to report her error, where the doctor responded, “That’s okay. Next time hit the right hole!”

The point is, we all make errors. That’s a fact of life. Nurses are human and in our human condition, we are not perfect. That’s why we have system processes in place to prevent these errors. The basic standard of care for medication administration includes the FIVE RIGHTS: Right PATIENT, Right DRUG, Right DOSE, Right ROUTE, and Right TIME. She did make many of these errors, and needs to be held accountable; however, by all accounts, is prison the answer?

Nurse RaDonda Vaught gave a 75-year-old anxious patient a paralytic drug called Vecuroium instead of the sedative drug of Versed (generic name Midazolam). The result of this medication error caused the patient’s death. Nurse Vaught was distraught over her error and admitted to the mistake immediately; however, the hospital did not report this error to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) or to their state health department and recorded the patient’s death as from natural causes. The hospital then fired Nurse Vaught.

Later, when the public became aware of the incident, the hospital agreed to settle with the patient’s family, with a gag order preventing the family from ever talking about it.

Following Nurse RaDonda Vaught’s trial and conviction, many questions have surfaced. How could this happen? Where were the protections in place to prevent this from occurring? Why didn’t the EMR communicate with the pharmacy? Where were the double checks? it is worth mentioning that the hospital did not provide the tools she needed to do her job, as in the safety scanner in Radiology for drug administration.

I am not excusing the error Nurse Vaught committed. Losing her license may be appropriate, even fining her and probation, but SENDING HER TO PRISON? How was that even possible?

Nurse Vaught was sentenced May 13, 2022 and faced up to eight years in prison total between the two charges; her sentences will likely run concurrently. The outcome of her sentencing, after an outpouring of outrage from the medical community, resulted in probation. She has already lost her nursing license. She will never be able to care for patients again.

One of the biggest concerns is will this conviction discourage new nurses from choosing this profession in the future? When we are old and sick, who will take care of us? The nursing shortage is already growing, and staffing is already affected in a massive way across our country. Of course, COVID has not helped the staffing challenges. Nurses have gone from “heroes” to disposable throughout the COVID pandemic. Many nurses have walked away from their chosen profession due to the stress. There are grave concerns there will not be enough qualified nurses to care for our sick currently and in the years to come.

Another question is what happened to respondeat superior? Vanderbilt was responsible for all the system errors that occurred in this horrible incident, and yet they suffered no criminal charge. It is obvious to me as a nurse that the employer is liable for the wrong of the employee that was committed within the scope of employment.

Medication errors fall within the scope of employment. This is a dangerous pathway we are taking in our medical and legal world. Again, I am not excusing the horrible error made by Nurse Vaught, but I am asking the question if her outcome justified the means. Why didn’t the courts go after the hospital? Vanderbilt did not have safety measures and processes in place, and it appears there was a cover-up when they silenced the family and did not report the error.

Sadly, it’s not too strong to say this case may change the trajectory of our medical system.


Nursing license full complaint:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6483588-Vaught-  RaDonda-NOC-9-27-19.html

DA Discovery:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6785652-RaDonda- Vaught-DA-Discovery.html

CMS remediation:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6535181-  Vanderbilt-Corrective-Plan.html

TN Health Dept Letters:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6785898- RaDonda-Vaught-Letters.html

CMS complaint:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6542003-CMS-  Complaint-Intake.html

NPR article:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-  shots/2022/03/25/1088902487/former-nurse-found-guilty-in-accidental-  injection-death-of-75-year-old-patient

USA Today:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/03/25/radonda-  vaught-verdict-vanderbilt-nurse-guilty/7169480001/

ANA Official Statement:

https://www.nursingworld.org/news/news- releases/2022-news-releases/statement-in-response-to-the-conviction-of-nurse- radonda-vaught/

Tennessean timeline:

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/health/2020/03/03/vanderbil t-nurse-radonda-vaught-arrested-reckless-homicide-vecuronium- error/4826562002/

Two lawyers discuss the case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EbfOWLMkQw

Another lawyer’s thoughts on the case: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZTdmS1aKS/


Connie Schaefer, RN, CLNC, is a legal nurse consultant with more than 40 years’ experience as a Registered Nurse. She works with law firms to advise them on medical cases. Connie has specialized in areas of ER, ICU, long-term care and Infection Prevention. She has seen an increase in medical lawsuits in the past 2 years and an increase in the need for specialist medical consulting.

Connie Schaefer Legal Nurse & Associates, LLC

(620) 222-5654



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