Civil Jury Finds Virginia Doctor Liable in Woman's Opioid-Related Death

A civil jury in Prince William County, Virginia, has found an orthopedic surgeon liable for a woman's opioid-related death.

Mary Jo Curtis, 57, was found dead in her home in June 2014. Curtis accidentally overdosed on a combination of oxycodone and alcohol.

On Wednesday, Dr. Christopher Highfill, an orthopedic surgeon in Manassas, was found liable in the wrongful death lawsuit Curtis' daughter filed.

The jury awarded Curtis' daughter, Shea Curtis, $100,000 in damages.

Shea Curtis said she began digging into her mother's medical records after her death and found Highfill had treated her mother for a broken ankle.

Highfill prescribed more than 7,000 Percocet pills to Mary Jo Curtis over the course of less than four years, according to Shea Curtis' attorney. Percocet is a brand name for oxycodone, a powerful narcotic.

"Mary Jo Curtis was an insurance executive in Manassas whose life deteriorated dramatically after she came under the care of Dr. Highfill for a broken ankle in 2011 and he put her on long-term prescription of Percocet," Patrick Malone, attorney for Shea Curtis, said in a release on Wednesday. "The jury heard evidence that Dr. Highfill wrote weekly prescriptions for Ms. Curtis for Percocet despite recognizing that she was vulnerable to addiction because of her history of alcohol abuse. The last 14 months of her life he did not see her a single time in his office while writing weekly prescriptions that eventually totaled more than 7,000 pills."


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In court, Dr. Highfill admitted he was negligent but denied responsibility for Ms. Curtis’s death.

Highfill had an unblemished record with the Virginia Board of Medicine until a 2016 reprimand for prescribing medication without office visits for an un-named 57-yr-old ankle surgery patient, presumably Mary Jo Curtis.

In those documents, Highfill described the process as “humbling” and said he had made changes to his practice such as requiring to see his prescribed patients every 90 days. Highfill also submitted to the board of medicine documentation that he took an opioid prescription education course with the Boston University School of Medicine.

A call to Highfill's attorney was not immediately returned.

Shea Curtis plans to appeal the amount of damages awarded in the lawsuit.

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