The mother of a 12-year-old boy who died at a state-run group home for kids has sued, the Miami Herald reported May 20. The lawsuit by Martha Quesada alleges that her son, Denis Maltez, was given too many psychiatric medications and not properly monitored by doctors. Maltez, who had severe autism, was on an outing with the state-funded Rainbow Ranch group home in 2007 when he died of serotonin syndrome, a rare but life-threatening reaction to an overdose of drugs or combination of drugs that includes many psychiatric medications.
Maltez had violent outbursts, including an attack on his sister that led Quesada to put him in the group home. On the day of his death in May of 2007, he had gone out with other kids from the home to get haircuts, but became violent with group home staffers. He became unresponsive after staffers restrained him on his stomach inside their van, then died. The next month, Rainbow Ranch was closed by the state.
After Maltez arrived at Rainbow Ranch, the Herald said, he was switched to the on-staff psychiatrist there, who saw Maltez once during his year at the home. That doctor, Steven Kaplan, put Maltez on four drugs: two antipsychotic drugs, a tranquilizer and an anti-seizure drug that can be used as a mood stabilizer. The lawsuit alleges that these drugs were used as a chemical restraint to control his behavior and caused him to sleep through school. During his year at the home, teachers sent Maltez to the hospital because of over-medication concerns. The anti-seizure drug was reduced on the second hospital’s recommendation, but increased again six months later. Maltez was also the subject of an anonymous call to the Florida Department of Children and Families child abuse hotline suggesting he was over-medicated.
Doctors consider serotonin syndrome a type of poisoning. It’s caused by excess production of a brain chemical called serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, metabolism and appetite. That excess production is caused by too many drugs or the wrong combination of drugs that affect brain activity, including antidepressants, opioids, central nervous system stimulators, some street drugs and certain herbs and amino acids. Symptoms include tremors and muscle contractions, elevated heart rate, sweating, confusion, agitation and hallucination.
Though a lawsuit’s complaint only tells one side of the story, these facts seem right on target for a South Florida medical malpractice lawsuit. The symptoms of serotonin toxicity could easily be mistaken for bad behavior, especially in a child who staffers knew to be aggressive and may not have been able to communicate well. If Maltez really was over-medicated and under-supervised, his family would have a strong case for their Miami medical malpractice wrongful death claim.
Our firm, Cohn, Smith & Cohn, represents children and adults throughout South Florida who were seriously hurt or even killed by the negligence of a medical professional. If you believe you or a loved one suffered an injury or illness because of bad decisions by doctors and others, we would like to help. Our Cooper City medical malpractice lawyers have more than 25 years of experience helping seriously injured people win the money they need for medical treatment, living expenses and compensation for an injury, disability or wrongful death. To learn more at a free, confidential consultation, please contact us online or call our main office in Broward County at (954) 431-8100 today.