Hospitals, HMO Ordered to Pay After Drug Allergy Kills Patient

NIS 355,000 to be paid to heirs of man who died after being treated with painkiller optalgin despite known allergy.

A court has ordered the Clalit Health Maintenance Organization, Bikur Holim Hospital, and Hadassah Medical Organization to pay NIS 355,000 to the heirs of a man who died after being treated with the painkiller Optalgin despite a known allergy to it.

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled Sunday that these three parties had been negligent, and ordered them to pay the plaintiffs' court costs and legal fees.

The deceased, Ovadia Eliyahu, had been allergic to Optalgin since 1991. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his vocal chords in 2003. In November that year, he was referred to Bikur Holim Hospital for a biopsy, and his allergy to Optalgin was noted on a form from Clalit. However, following the surgical procedure, he was given Optalgin. But he had no adverse reaction, and was discharged without the allergy being noted in his file.

The hospital sent him for treatment at a Hadassah clinic, where his allergy was also not noted. After undergoing daily medical treatments in January 2004, Eliyahu complained of side effects, and a doctor prescribed Optalgin. The patient's family doctor signed the prescription without looking at his medical file.

Shortly after taking the medication, Eliyahu collapsed and lost consciousness. He remained in a vegetative state until his death, in October 2004.

His family filed a malpractice suit against the three parties involved. In finding for the plaintiffs, the court ruled that Clalit's role in the negligent treatment was greater than that of the two hospitals, and ordered it to cover 50 percent of the damages.

"There can be no dispute that such conduct by a family doctor is negligence," wrote Judge Arnon Darel. "Providing 'drive-through' medical service, or along the lines of 'Dr. I just have a question,' or 'Dr., do me a favor, just sign,' is wrong medical practice."

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