A Wellington woman died from an accidental paracetamol overdose, a coroner has ruled.

Sarah Anne Hunn, 52, was rushed to Wellington hospital by her husband concerned by her rapidly deteriorating state but she died two days later.

In his findings released today, Coroner Tim Scott said Hunn had a history of "quite severe bipolar variant mixed depression and anxiety".

She had suffered from it throughout her adult life and when it happened it wasn't unusual for her to drink a lot.


Hunn's husband, Tony, told police she was drinking heavily in the week leading up to her death.

On Friday, April 28, this year - two days before her death - he saw her taking "multiple" Panadol tablets.

He saw her take two tablets, followed by another two three hours later. He then became worried and hid them from her.

However, Scott found that amount was not "particularly excessive" and from what happened said it was "highly likely that she took a much greater quantity than that, which Tony did not see".

Coroner Tim Scott has ruled Wellington woman Sarah Hunn's death was caused by an accidental overdose of paracetamol. Photo/File
Coroner Tim Scott has ruled Wellington woman Sarah Hunn's death was caused by an accidental overdose of paracetamol. Photo/File

By the next morning, Hunn's condition worsened and she was having difficulty breathing so he took her straight to hospital where she was admitted.

By about 4pm, she began slurring her words as if she was drunk but he knew she had nothing to drink that day.

Dr Kathryn Tietjens said it appeared Hunn was suffering from alcohol withdrawal but a blood test later showed "a very high level of acid in the blood", which was causing her breathing problems.

Hunn had more tests and it was discovered she was suffering from "severe liver and kidney failure and that there was a high level of paracetamol in the blood".


"This was recognised as the cause of the liver failure."

After consulting a specialist, it was found that Hunn was not a suitable candidate for a liver transplant and no other options were available.

After a meeting with family, it was accepted that Hunn was dying because of the painkiller overdose and would not survive.

Life support was turned off and she died on Sunday, April 30.

Scott ruled that her death was not a suicide as there was "very little evidence" to suggest she was suicidal.

Her husband was concerned because he feared she might take too many pills accidentally - not on purpose.

"It is entirely possible that Sarah took excessive Panadol either by mistake or intentionally but not with the purpose of taking her own life.

"It is well known that many people - perhaps naively - consider that there is a very high built-in safety margin in respect of dispensing drugs like Panadol or paracetamol. On the balance of probability, however, I conclude that although there was an overdose of paracetamol taken by Sarah it was accidentally taken, not taken in an attempt to end her life."

Tony Hunn disagreed that his wife was prone to suffering depressive episodes and said she'd only had four during their 30 years knowing each other.

"I was married to her for 20 years and was friends for 30 years and I'm pretty disappointed that only the slithers of her life have been made public.

"I guess the message is that depression can hit anybody."

He said what the findings didn't show was that her death wasn't due to an overdose from a single dose, rather an accumulation over time and "her liver just packed in".

She was also a much-loved and respected member of the community, most of whom would have been aware of the troubles she'd had with depression.

"She just had a huge number of friends and that's why her funeral was so big."

He was glad the dangers of paracetamol were being made public as it could be a dangerous product.

"This stuff is a miracle drug if taken properly but it can have very dire consequences."