Articles Posted in Hospital Malpractice

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This week, a jury hearing a medical malpractice case in Dallas awarded $19.7 million to the family of a woman who suffered catastrophic and ultimately fatal brain damage as the result of her healthcare providers’ negligence.  In 2013 the woman presented to a local hospital with a chief complaint of leg numbness.  Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system.  It can diminish the ability of muscles to function which ultimately can lead to serious breathing problems.  Still, GBS usually resolves and patients can experience a full recovery once their symptoms have passed.

The patient in this case began to experience breathing problems and so she was provided a breathing tube through her mouth.  Eventually, this was changed to a tracheostomy tube through a hole in the patient’s neck.  Although she was unable to speak due to the tracheostomy, she was awake, alert and functioning.  Unfortunately, her physicians failed to realize that the way in which the trachea was inserted had caused a leak, resulting in the woman receiving less than half of the air that was intended.  The next morning, the tube became dislodged and the woman’s oxygen supply was cut off completely for more than a half hour.

As a result, the woman spent the next eighteen months in a vegetative state, being cared for by nursing home staff with her husband visiting her when he was not busy taking care of the couple’s two young children.  Thereafter the woman passed away.  The trial lasted two weeks and the jury’s award came after just three hours of deliberations.

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An Idaho jury has awarded $3.85 million to a married couple after the wife suffered a catastrophic brain injury as the result of alleged improper removal of a catheter from her neck. According to the lawsuit, while in the hospital a nurse improperly removed a central venous catheter line which caused the patient to suffer an air embolism and stroke, resulting in irreversible brain damage.

The defendants conceded that the stroke was caused by an air embolism and that the likely reason for the occurrence was the nurse’s failure to position the patient flat on her back while removing the catheter. They defended the case principally on damages, i.e., how much money is appropriate to compensate her and her husband for their losses.

The jury’s award included almost $100,000 in past medical bills, $178,000 to cover modifications to the home to make it handicap-accessible, $1.4 million for future medical expenses and $1.5 million for past and future pain, suffering, disfigurement and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded $350,000 to the couple for loss of consortium.

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Earlier this year, a Detroit jury awarded $21 million to the family of a woman who died following a brain surgery that she was never supposed to undergo. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here. The 81 year-old presented to the hospital in January of 2012 for treatment of her bilateral jaw displacement (dislocated jaw). Unfortunately, upon her admission, hospital staff mixed up her CT Scan results with those of another patient, causing the doctors to believe that this woman had bleeding on her brain requiring emergency surgery.

Doctors immediately took her to the operating room where they drilled five holes into her head and remove the right side of her skull. Upon surgically reaching the woman’s brain, no bleed was found. Because of the woman’s age and health, she was unable to recover from the brain surgery and died after 60 days on life support. There also was an allegation in the lawsuit that the hospital attempted to cover up its mistake. The plaintiffs’ attorney was quoted in the article as saying that this procedure was “something that can be done in a dentist chair [but that] instead they took off the right side of her head, and killed her.” Interestingly, the jury at one point during deliberations sent a note to the judge asking whether they could demand that the hospital apologize for its “wrongful and outrageous conduct.” The hospital vowed to appeal.

The unfortunate lesson to be learned from this case is that these types of medical errors can happen to anyone. If you or a loved one were the victim of a medical mistake – whether it is obvious such as this one or subtle – give us a call for a free consultation at 410-385-2225.

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A family, whose daughter died as a result of an untreated brain aneurysm, recently has settled their wrongful death lawsuit against a medical group comprised of more than 400 doctors, prior to the case going to trial.

More details of the case can be found here.

For years, the woman suffered from frequent migraine headaches and had been receiving treatment from a particular medical group. In December 2006, the woman visited another medical center complaining of an unusually severe headache. She received a pain shot and was sent home from the medical center shortly after. Over the next several days, the woman visited doctors at both the medical group and the medical center and was treated with medication for a sinus infection and given additional pain shots. At no time during these visits did she receive any radiographic studies or undergo any further tests to determine if a more serious condition may have been involved. Several days later, the woman was rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with an untreated aneurysm. Tragically, six days later, she died as a result of bleeding in her brain.

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It should go without saying that a person who enters a hospital has certain expectations of the level of care they will receive and how the medical staff will behave. Hospitals can be frightening and intimidating, and patients rely on their physicians to ease their apprehensions and concerns. Above all, patients expect to receive the highest level of care, both quickly and meticulously. In this same vein, doctors are expected, and even trained, to make the proper decisions when the time comes to make a diagnosis or recommend the appropriate treatment.

Unfortunately, this standard of care sometimes is taken for granted. Across the country, surgical errors, misdiagnoses and hospital negligence happen all too often. The consequences of such mistakes vary widely – from no injury to the patient to sometimes permanent injuries. When a doctor misses important information, or ignores crucial signs, the result can be a serious misdiagnosis, often leaving a patient in a worse condition. No matter how small the error or resulting injury may be, these medical mistakes cannot be overlooked.

Misdiagnosis is a common error among physician’s that puts a patient’s health and safety at risk. For these reasons, many patients file medical malpractice lawsuits against physicians who negligently misdiagnose an injury or illness. This was the case for a woman in Iowa, who recently was awarded a large settlement in connection with her physician’s serious failure to diagnose an illness. A copy of the article regarding the settlement can be found here.

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Recently, in a medical malpractice wrongful death case in Harford County, Maryland, a jury awarded more than $958,000 to the family of a woman who died after receiving “excessive amounts” of pain medication during a hospital stay. According to the lawsuit, the woman’s death resulted from the hospital providing hospice care rather than standard treatment for her infected ulcers.

In February 2010, the decedent, Beverly Ann Gargiulo, was admitted to Upper Chesapeake Health Center seeking treatment for ulcers that reportedly had become infected. The hospital allegedly told Mrs. Gargiulo she would need hospice care but never communicated that information to her family. During her treatment, Mrs. Gargiulo reportedly received large amounts of narcotics, including morphine and oxycodone, in increasing amounts and with increasing frequency. The family claimed in their medical malpractice and wrongful lawsuit that this pain relief medication was more appropriate for a patient about to die than for a person who was expected to be discharged from the hospital. Gargiulo’s family filed suit against the hospital asserting multiple causes of action for medical malpractice. In August, a jury awarded the family $958,258 after it found that the hospital committed medical negligence in its treatment of Gargiulo, and that this negligence resulted in a wrongful death. A copy of an article regarding the case can be found here.

I have handled many cases involving overmedication causing serious injuries and even death. These cases require a detailed understanding of medications and dosage levels, which only a medical malpractice lawyer has.

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In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that each year 98,000 Americans die as a result of medical malpractice. A recent study published in the Journal of Patient Safety says that number now is estimated to be between 210,000 and 440,000 patients. The new estimates, developed by John T. James, a toxicologist at NASA’s space center in Houston and leader of an advocacy organization called Patient Safety America, were based on the findings of four recent studies which examined records of more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008. A copy of the article can be found here.

What makes those numbers particularly appalling is that the causes of wrongful death were preventable medical mistakes, such as errors of commission and omission, errors of communication and context, and diagnostic errors. And, even more disheartening, this number would make medical malpractice errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease and cancer, respectively.

The recent study found the increase was due to multiple causes. Systematically, hospitals struggle with staffing issues, making suitable technology available for patient care, and executing effective handoffs between shifts and inpatient and outpatient care. Further, increased production demands, coupled with a lack of transparency and accountability, also may increase the risk of preventable adverse events. James advocates for a national patient bill of rights for hospitalized patients that would empower them to be thoroughly integrated into their care so that they can take the lead in reducing their risk of serious harm from medical malpractice and wrongful death.

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Unfortunately, some of the most common medical malpractice lawsuits involve a doctor of hospital’s failure to diagnose a patient properly. When a patient seeks medical help, he or she trusts that their doctor or hospital will perform the necessary steps to diagnose what is causing their symptoms ultimately provide the proper treatment.

A missed or wrong diagnosis can lead a patient down the wrong treatment plan, or without any treatment plan at all. A missed diagnosis or a failure to diagnose occurs when a doctor or hospital does not diagnose a medical condition in a timely matter. Failing to properly diagnose a patient prevents doctors and medical staff from providing the proper treatment, which often can lead to further injury or sometimes even death.

Such was the situation in a recent case study involving a twenty-nine-year-old patient who delivered a child by cesarean section. One month after her delivery, the mother went to the hospital complaining of a painful migraine, blurred vision, nausea, and vomiting. The results from her CT scan were interpreted as normal, and the patient was discharged from the hospital with no medication or treatment provided. Two days later, she returned to the hospital with slurred speech, drooling and weakness in her upper and lower limbs. An additional CT scan was ordered immediately, which revealed an intracranial hemorrhage. Ultimately, she died of an intraparenchymal hemorrhage in her left cerebral hemisphere.

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There are many hidden and unknown dangers in the very places we expect to heal; for example, hospital beds. Many of these hospital beds have rails, typically made of metal, that run along the side of the sleeping space. These bed rails operate to prevent someone from rolling off accidentally.

Several months ago the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a review of bedrail deaths and injuries of adults. Using data from hospitals, the report cited 155 deaths involving bed rails from January 2003 to September 2012. In that same period, almost 37,000 people were injured in bed rail accidents and treated at hospital emergency rooms. According to this report, the deaths and injuries most commonly occurred when the victim became stuck in the bed rails, mainly with his or her head or neck getting caught. These alarming numbers triggered the CPSC to move forward in addressing bed rail safety.

Last week, the CPSC “merged” two petitions related to bed rail safety. Combined, the two petitions offer the CPSC an array of options: it can decide to do nothing, ban the use of bed rails entirely, or choose any various steps in between. Safety advocates are insistent that no intermediary step will eliminate all harm, suggesting that a ban likely is the best and safest option. The prevalence of these beds and bed rails in residences, nursing homes, and hospitals suggests that it is likely this petition will gain deep collective interest among a number of organizations.

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The New York Times recently ran a fascinating op ed by Joanna Schwartz, a professor at UCLA. The subject was a study that Professor Schwartz did on the value of medical malpractice litigation in reducing medical errors. Professor Schwartz’s conclusion was that medical malpractice claims and lawsuits actually don’t result in doctors and other health professionals hiding problems and, in fact, such suits actually encourage improved practices.

In order to reach her conclusions, Professor Schwartz surveyed more than 400 people who are responsible for hospital risk management, claims management and quality improvement in hospitals in the U.S. She found that, although hospitals used to handle medical errors and lawsuits by taking an adversarial and secret approach, hospitals have begun changing that approach. Now, she reports, hospitals are more open with patients. In fact, she found that over 80 percent of hospitals that she surveyed now actually have a policy of apologizing to patients who are victims of errors. Most importantly, she found that most hospitals are willing to discuss and learn from errors with staff. This is a dramatic shift form the old days when health care providers kept from patients the fact of medical injury. A copy of the op ed piece can be found here.

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