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Kentucky law prevents practitioners from being criminally charged for medical errors

We were pleased to learn that Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear recently signed a bill (House Bill 159) into law that protects healthcare practitioners from being criminally charged for medical errors, making Kentucky the first state to do so. Under this bill, practitioners, including nurses, pharmacists, and physicians, “shall be immune from criminal liability for any harm or damages alleged to arise from an act or omission relating to the provision of health services" with exceptions for gross negligence and intentional misconduct.

This follows our April 7, 2022 newsletter article, Criminalization of human error and a guilty verdict: A travesty of justice that threatens patient safety, when we shared how RaDonda Vaught had been convicted of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult following the 2017 tragic death of Charlene Murphey. RaDonda was found guilty of negligent homicide, lost her nursing license, and was sentenced to three years of supervised probation in Tennessee.

ISMP, along with others, feared the criminal charges and the guilty verdict against RaDonda set a dangerous precedent with worrisome implications for safety. We were concerned the guilty verdict would prevent practitioners from reporting errors, undermine the creation of a culture of safety, accelerate the exodus of practitioners from clinical practice, exacerbate the shortage of healthcare providers, perpetuate the myth that perfect performance is achievable, and impede system improvements. We are thankful for the path Kentucky has taken with this new law. We hope similar actions will be taken by other states. We encourage practitioners to report medication errors to their organization, to ISMP, to state agencies where required, and/or to a patient safety organization (PSO), to facilitate learning about the causes and prevention of medication errors.