A Missouri jury awarded $2.58 million this week to a couple in a medical malpractice case where a retiree got a staph infection and lost his right leg, part of his left foot, a kidney and some hearing. The jury than awarded $513,000 to the wife of the man, who quit her job to help care for her husband for the last four years. The jury found the doctor and the hospital liable for causing the man to suffer 15 surgeries, 84 days in hospitals, 137 visits to doctor’s offices, brain damage and having to learn to walk again with a prosthesis.
The man had a pacemaker installed and then was discharged several days later. The next month, he became sick and was diagnosed at another hospital with the infection. The infection led doctors there to remove the pacemaker, at which time they found golf-ball size masses of infection in his body. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant doctor installed the pacemaker even though there was redness on the right wrist of the patient from an IV, and the installation became the conduit for the infection to spread.
I have handled a number of medical malpractice cases where the issue was whether the doctor and hospital failed to timely diagnose and treat an infection and/or sepsis. Some of these have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements or verdicts. These cases are usually very sad because they usually involve repeated instances in which the doctor or hospital ignores clear signs of infection and/or sepsis, which is documented by the medical records. They also are extremely troubling cases because the person is usually otherwise healthy but suffers severe injuries due to the infection, or even death. These cases are always complicated because the allegation usually is not that the doctor or hospital caused the infection (which is usually very hard to prove, but which was the issue in the case above), but that the doctor and hospital failed to treat an infection that was there. Proving that the doctor or hospital caused the infection is usually very difficult.