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Medical malpractice case turns criminal

New Mexico residents have often turned to the civil courts for help when medical care goes awry due to negligence. However, serious cases of doctor negligence are increasingly being tried in the criminal court system, and a guilty verdict may assist in any corresponding medical malpractice case.

A 50-year-old physician in an out-of-state case is being charged with eight counts of involuntary manslaughter. The doctor is accused of prescribing narcotic painkillers to patients in unnecessarily large amounts, eventually resulting in patient death by overdose.

The case gained national attention when court papers revealed one of the patients to be 38-year-old Slipknot bassist, Paul Gray, who died from a prescription painkiller overdose in May 2010. Gray was reportedly addicted to these painkillers. If convicted, the physician may be sentenced to up to 16 years in prison.

Criminal prosecution for medical malpractice is still rare nationally, but the numbers of doctors being charged in the criminal court system for negligence is growing. In the case of this physician, the judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, and he has been suspended from his job.

There is currently a high level of concern over prescription drug abuse, and physicians who prescribe narcotic painkillers come under greater scrutiny because of this. Death while under a physician's care is not uncommon; however, in cases where doctor negligence may be the cause of wrongful death, the families of those involved should do all they can to learn about their legal rights. The doctor in this case also has multiple medical malpractice and wrongful death suits against him.

Source: Des Moines Register, "Pain doctor charged in 8 deaths, including Slipknot's Paul Gray," Tony Leys, Sept. 5, 2012

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