Two words that can strike terror into the hearts of doctors and patients.
For patients, it can result in reduced quality of life, inability to work, permanent disability, or death. And for doctors, it can mean the end of a career, long-term depression and, in some cases, suicide.
It’s a situation that nobody desires, but it happens, all too frequently. Sometimes the cause is equipment failure or similar circumstances. More often than not, it comes down to poor judgement and human error.
Alarmingly, nearly 60% of doctors who responded to a survey on the topic had been sued at least once. Of those, 85% were Ob-Gyn and women’s health doctors. Not surprisingly, surgeons were right up there, too, at 83%.
Sixth Largest Cause of Death
While the medical industry tells us that mistakes are rare, medical malpractice is the sixth largest cause of death in the US. Those are scary statistics and, if we thought about them too much, none of us would ever go into hospital again.
What is reassuring is knowing there are specialists, experienced law firms who are there to fight for genuine victims of medical malpractice, with multi-million dollar settlements not uncommon. But while success is possible, it can take time.
For example, a Massachusetts court this year awarded $30 million to a family whose daughter, born in 2004, was left severely brain damaged when a doctor failed to carry out an immediate C-section.
As you might expect, there are certain types of medical malpractice that we see again and again. Some are clearly an indisputable error of judgement, whilst others could be put down to pure bad luck. But either way, when we receive treatment from the medical professional, there is a duty of care that must be honoured.
And those breaching that duty of care are not always doctors. That duty of care applies to all medical professionals, including nurses and anaesthetists.
Despite the cutting edge technology used in operating rooms these days, this is also where many medical malpractice cases begin. These include – but are not restricted to – wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors or WSPEs. Understandably, these are also referred to as ‘never events’ – errors that should never happen.
Other surgical errors include leaving surgical equipment inside the body; accidentally damaging an organ or blood vessel; operating in non-sterile conditions, leading to serious infection, and anaesthesia errors. The latter is fairly rare but, a mistake in this area can lead to hypoxic brain injury, a serious allergic reaction or malignant hyperthermia.
Failure to Diagnose
In medical malpractice cases, there are always grey areas. Not every situation warrants a medical malpractice claim, which is why you should always consult an experienced attorney. Missed or delayed diagnoses are common complaints and can lead to very serious consequences for the patient.
Cervical cancer is a good example. If detected early enough, it can be successfully treated. But if the doctor is negligent in diagnosing cancer, he or she could be held accountable.
Given there were 3.98 million births in the US in 2015, it’s no surprise this is another area reporting high medical malpractice statistics. Negligence at this critical time can cause harm to both mother and baby and include failure to anticipate complications (such as a tangled umbilical cord), failure to recognise or respond to foetal distress, and incorrect use of equipment, such as forceps.
However, negligence is not restricted to childbirth alone, and can also be applied to prenatal and post-partum care. For example, if the doctor fails to diagnose a medical condition in the mother, such as preeclampsia or a contagious disease, or a birth defect in the child.
Around 28,000 birth injuries occur every year in the US, and childbirth malpractice cases can be very difficult, due to the many factors involved. They are also very highly charged emotionally and it is crucial to choose an experienced attorney.
This area is also affected by the Statute of Limitations and the time period in which you can legally file your case differs state to state. Your attorney will be able to advise you.
Another very common form of medical malpractice is medication error. This might be due to a doctor prescribing the wrong medication and/or dosage for your condition; a medical professional failing to notice or act upon an allergic reaction or potentially harmful drug interaction or, in a hospital situation, the wrong type or dose of medication being given.
This area of concern is not new: extensive research has been carried out since a report in 2006 confirmed that at least 1.5 million Americans had been sickened, injured or killed by medication errors.
Just this year, the results of an eight-year study by Johns Hopkins Medicine confirmed that 10% of all US deaths are now due to medical error – that’s more than 250,000 deaths per year. That’s more than respiratory disease.
The Johns Hopkins team is calling for changes and improvements in the methods used to collect national health statistics.
Perhaps there has never been a greater need for highly experienced legal representation in these matters. As well as the most common types of medical malpractice outlined above, there are many others, too. For example, failure to probably monitor a patient; failure to refer to a specialist; improper treatment for a diagnosed disease; inpatient / outpatient suicide; lack of supervision, the list goes on.
Do You Need Help?
Then there’s the worrying increase in healthcare-associated infections (HAI), where a patient contracts an infection while in the care of the medical facility. This accounts for around 99,000 deaths a year in the US.
If you believe that you or a member of your family has been adversely affected by medical malpractice, you should not hesitate to seek legal advice. In choosing your attorney, look for experience, and ask about the number and outcome of their successful cases.
Where humans are involved, human error is always going to exist, and sometimes there just isn’t a case to answer. But if the duty of care has been breached, and that breach was avoidable, you are justified to seek recompense.