Tennessee nurse convicted of negligent homicide for fatal medication error


A jury found former Vanderbilt Health nurse RaDonda Vaught guilty of negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult after she committed a fatal drug error in 2017. Vaught, who gave a patient a lethal dose of the paralytic agent vecuronium rather than the sedative Versed, overlooking several warning alerts, now faces up to six years in prison.

The Gist: Criminal charges for unintentional medical errors like this one are very unusual; discipline is normally the purview of licensing boards and civil courts. While Vaught certainly made an egregious mistake that directly led to a patient’s death, there’s a delicate line between holding caregivers accountable and making them criminally liable for unintentional errors. 

The American Nurses Association warns this verdict could set a dangerous precedent, and have a chilling effect on providers’ reporting errors. Health systems have worked diligently over decades to promote a culture of quality improvement and transparency—central to that is an environment that encourages providers to report all medical errors in order to improve patient safety. Many providers are now concerned that this conviction could reverse that progress. 

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