Days after the authorities in Minnesota announced that no one would be criminally charged in the 2016 overdose death of Prince, his next of kin are suing an Illinois hospital that treated the singer for an opioid overdose the week before his fatal incident, according to a suit filed on Monday.
Prince’s family, under the name of a trustee, Michael A. Zimmer, charge in the suit that the singer received improper medical care in the early morning hours of April 15, 2016, after Prince’s private plane made an emergency landing in Moline, Ill., following a show in Atlanta.
The suit claims that Prince’s death was a “direct and proximate cause” of the hospital failing to appropriately diagnose and treat the overdose, as well as its failure to investigate the cause and provide proper counseling.
Based on documents related to the criminal investigation released on Friday, prosecutors believe that Prince had likely overdosed that night on what he believed to be prescription opioids like Vicodin, but were actually black market versions containing the much more powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. Authorities determined that, without knowing, Prince most likely took a counterfeit drug containing fentanyl again six days later at home in Paisley Park, leading to his death at 57.
Carver County prosecutors in Minnesota said they could not determine where exactly he had obtained the tainted drugs and declined to charge anyone in the death.
Lawyers for Prince’s family, George Loucas and John Goetz, said in a statement Monday: “What happened to Prince is happening to families across America. The family wishes through its investigation to shed light on this epidemic and how to better the fight to save lives. If Prince’s death helps save lives, then all was not lost.”
The lawsuit names Trinity Medical Center, the Illinois hospital where Prince was treated, along with its parent companies. Also named is Nicole F. Mancha, a doctor who provided Prince care at the hospital, as well as an unidentified pharmacist or pharmacy employee “that consulted” in the care provided to Prince.
A representative for the hospital said it does not comment on pending legal matters.
The family is also suing Walgreens, charging its employees with “dispensing narcotic prescription medications” to the singer for an invalid medical purpose and failing to conduct the appropriate drug utilization review.
Upon landing in Illinois, Prince, who was barely breathing, was carried off his jet by his longtime friend and employee Kirk Johnson, who told paramedics that the singer may have taken a Percocet after his concert, according to police reports. (A Minnesota physician, Michael Schulenberg, settled with the federal government on Thursday, after telling investigators that he had written Prince a prescription for Percocet in Mr. Johnson’s name; as part of the settlement, the doctor admitted no liability.)
It took two shots of Narcan, a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, to revive the singer, and he was transported to Trinity Medical Center.
Dr. Mancha, in an interview with those investigating the musician’s death, said Prince told her he had taken two Percocet, though she believed he was lying, she added, because the amount of that prescription drug would not have required two shots of Narcan. The singer refused all testing, including having blood drawn and undergoing a urine toxicology report, in what his friends later said was an effort to conceal his addiction to painkillers from the public. Prince, who was known for his privacy, left the hospital without further treatment and returned to his Paisley Park home in Minnesota, according to investigators.
Alexander Stein, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who writes about medical malpractice, said that while “in some states this would be a very difficult case to win,” Illinois tends to be “pro-patient.”
According to the investigators’ report, Judith Hill, a singer who was on the flight that landed in Illinois, said Prince had told her he had taken an unidentified pill stored in a Bayer aspirin bottle. Dr. Mancha said that the pills resembled hydrocodone (or Vicodin) and that she sent one to a pharmacy to be identified. The pill, which had the inscription Watson 853, was identified at the pharmacy as hydrocodone, though it was not tested for its authenticity, Dr. Mancha said.
After Prince’s death, investigators discovered a Bayer bottle from his nightstand at Paisley Park containing 64.5 pills labeled Watson 853. Those pills were found to be counterfeit and contained fentanyl, though investigators did not definitively say whether they were the exact painkillers that had caused Prince to overdose.