Jury Finds Doctor Accountable for Fatal Overdose of Prescription Medications

Vitalina Martinez was a long-term patient of the defendant internal medicine physician Eladio Vargas, MD. Martinez was Dr. Vargas’s patient for over 17 years. During this time, Dr. Vargas prescribed various narcotics, Benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Martinez became addicted to these medicines.

She was 52 years old when she fell at home on Oct. 24, 2007. She alleged that the fall was caused by an overdose of the medications prescribed by Dr. Vargas. She was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital where she was admitted for 3 weeks. During this 3-week hospitalization, she went through a detoxification protocol to ease her dependence on the multiple prescription medicines prescribed by Dr. Vargas.

Three weeks after her discharge from Lutheran General, she went to Dr. Vargas’s office on Dec. 4, 2007. At this visit, Dr. Vargas prescribed Xanax and 200 mg of MS Contin for daily use.


In this lawsuit, the family of Martinez alleged that Dr. Vargas chose not to fully investigate the reason for his patient’s recent hospitalization at Lutheran General before prescribing morphine and Xanax on Dec. 4, 2007. Dr. Vargas admitted he was aware of the hospitalization, but he denied knowing that a detox occurred during that inpatient stay.

Unfortunately, Martinez died one week after the receipt of the prescription drug Xanax and morphine. She is survived by an adult daughter, Anna Ramirez. The family asserted in the lawsuit that Martinez died because of an overdose of morphine and Xanax. The death certificate and autopsy reports show her death was from an overdose of these medications. It was also claimed that Dr. Vargas deviated from the standard of care in prescribing morphine and Xanax on Dec. 4, he should have fully investigated the reason behind her recent hospitalization at Lutheran General, or he should have spoken to the patient herself or made a phone call to one of her family members.

The family further maintained that Vitalina’s 3-week hospitalization was caused by the medicine prescribed by Dr. Vargas and that his prescribing of narcotics and barbiturates prior to October 2007 violated the standard of care.

The family asked the jury for $156,859 in medical expenses; $200,000 for  loss of normal life; $2.8 million for Anna Ramirez’s loss of society and $250,000 for her grief and sorrow.

The defense for Dr. Vargas argued that the death was not due to an overdose, but was likely caused by dilated cardiomyopathy, a cardiac arrhythmia caused the need for the 3-week hospitalization at Lutheran General. The defense also argued that all of Dr. Vargas’s care and treatment was within the standard of care.

Dr. Vargas reportedly admitted at trial he would not have prescribed morphine on Dec. 4 if he had known the details of the hospitalization. The defendant further contended that Martinez’s death was her failure to listen to the advice of Dr. Anthony March (the addiction specialist responsible for her detoxification at Lutheran General), who told her to stay away from Dr. Vargas and not take medication that he prescribed.

The jury attributed 45% of the fault of this death to Martinez and 5% to her daughter, thereby reducing the jury’s verdict by 50%. The jury’s verdict of $313,706 was reduced by 50% to $156,853 made up of the following damages:

• $78,462.50 for grief and sorrow; and
• $78,462.50 for medical expenses.

Before trial, the attorney representing Martinez’s family, Brian C. Thomas, made a demand to settle the lawsuit for $1 million. There was no offer to settle by the defendant. In closing argument, Mr. Thomas asked the jury to return a verdict of $3,406,859.

At trial, Martinez’s treating addiction medicine physician Dr. March and an internist testified on her behalf. In addition, her attorney engaged physician experts who gave testimony in family practice medicine and pharmacology. The defendant engaged an internal medicine physician expert who testified on Dr. Vargas’s behalf.

Estate of Vitalina Martinez v. Eladio Vargas, M.D., No. 09 L 14555 (Cook County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence cases, nursing home abuse cases and birth injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bensenville, Blue Island, Hoffman Estates, Homewood, Justice, Kenilworth, Lemont, Lansing, LaGrange Park, Tinley Park, Stone Park, South Holland, South Chicago Heights, Blue Island, Cicero, Joliet, Forestview, Glenview, Chicago (Roscoe Village, Prairie District, Chinatown, Greek Town, Lithuanian Plaza, Little Italy, Lincoln Park, Archer Heights, Bronzeville, Brighton Park, Bridgeport, Beverly, Back of the Yards, Edgewater, Edgebrook, Edison Park, Garfield Park, Gold Coast, Horner Park, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Jefferson Park), Hinsdale and Des Plaines, Ill.

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