Case Facts

Physician Dr. Van H. Vu practiced medicine in Orange County (OC), California. In 2012, he was accused of prescribing power pain killer narcotics with lead to the death of three patients as a result of prescription drug overdoses.  The Medical Board of California sought to suspend Vu’s medical license due to gross negligence with regards to patient care. The plaintiffs were a 22-year-old woman, a 43-year-old mentally ill man, and a 51-year-old single father (Glover & Girion, 2014).  Dr. Vu’s response to the lawsuit was “Every single day, I try to do the best I can for every single patient, and I can’t control what they do once they leave my office.” (Glover & Girion, 2014, para. 8).  In addition, the OC medical board claimed that Dr. Vu neglected to address signs of distress exhibited by the three patients before they died.  Instead, he continued to issue the plaintiffs deadly prescription drug combinations (Glover & Girion, 2014).


The question presented to the court is negligence, a sub-category of tort law.  In order to proceed with medical negligence there are four elements that are required: (1) establishing legal duty of the physician, (2) breach of duty, (3) patient suffered injury, and (4) injury was caused by the substandard of conduct (Matzo, 2014).  The burden of proof for all four elements rests on the plaintiff. For this case the physician established legal duty accepting the patient and administering care via medications.  The physician breached duty by dispensing strong medications in abundance and not properly assessing patient risk factors for over-sedation or suicidal ideation.  Multiple patients died under the alleged negligence proving harm, and since the patients died of respiratory depression, a common side effect of opiate pain medication, his actions caused the harm.



Negligence arises when a defendant fails to deliver a reasonable standard of care that, in turn, causes harm to the plaintiff.  For a defendant to be deemed negligent, the plaintiff needs to show that a reasonable standard of care was due (to the plaintiff), the standard of care was not provided by the defendant, and the plaintiff endured a loss.  Additionally, the plaintiff must show that the plaintiff’s loss was caused by the defendant’s behavior and that the defendant’s behavior is the proximate or direct cause of the plaintiff’s loss (Cheeseman, 2013).  In the case of Dr. Van H. Vu’s alleged negligence (Glover & Girion, 2014), for Dr. Van H. Vu to be found negligent, the plaintiffs have to show that Dr. Van H. Vu owed the patients a duty or standard of care, and that Dr. Van H. Vu did not provide it to them.  The plaintiffs also must show that the patients incurred harm and that Dr. Van H. Vu’s treatment and conduct both caused the harm and was the proximate harm to the patients.