Relatives of Montana Man Sue Hospital Over Death

By BEN NEARY | July 29, 2013

Relatives of a Montana man who died of a drug overdose following surgery at a hospital in Cody, Wyo., have filed a federal lawsuit claiming negligence by the hospital and medical personnel who gave him an opiate patch.

The estate of Russell Monaco, represented by Monaco’s wife and brother, filed the federal lawsuit Monday in Cheyenne.

The lawsuit says an autopsy found Monaco, 47, of Billings, died at his home in late 2011 the day after he was discharged from West Park Hospital of a drug overdose caused by the patch and other drugs he was prescribed. A filing that Monaco’s estate made with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel states that the plaintiffs calculate damages at more than $14 million.

“The Monaco case is just an unbelievable tragedy, and should not have occurred under any circumstances,” lawyer Jon M. Moyers of Billings said Thursday.

The lawsuit states that medical personnel gave Monaco a patch containing the drug Fentanyl. It states the manufacturer has standard warnings that the drug should only be given to people who were accustomed to taking opiates and that it poses a grave risk of depressing oxygen levels and causing death.

The lawsuit names physician’s assistant Harley Morrell and Dr. John H. Schneider as defendants. Attempts to reach them and lawyers who represented them at a recent hearing before the Wyoming Medical Review Panel were unsuccessful. The lawyers and the defendants didn’t respond immediately to telephone messages.

The Wyoming Medical Review Panel last month issued an order authorizing Monaco’s lawsuit to proceed.

Schneider, a neurosurgeon, has had medical practices in Cody and Billings. The lawsuit states the plaintiffs believe he’s now living in Wyoming or California.

Hospital spokesman Joel Hunt declined comment this week. He said Schneider is not on staff at the hospital.

The Wyoming Board of Medicine in January 2012 temporarily suspended Schneider’s license. Kevin Bohnenblust, executive director of the Wyoming Board of Medicine, said this week that the board reinstated Schneider’s license in March 2012 with the restriction that he no longer prescribe Fentanyl patches.

Ian Marquand, executive officer with the Montana Board of Medical Examiners, said this week that Schneider’s license in that state is in good standing.

In May 2012, lawyers representing Schneider told a federal judge in Cheyenne that he had reached a confidential settlement to resolve another federal lawsuit. Dr. Jimmie Biles of Cody had sued Schneider claiming that he was responsible for a mass mailing that disparaged Biles’ medical practice.

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