Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

All of us have been taught the importance of being personally responsible and accountable for our actions. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Bills that will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for citizens harmed by the wrongdoing of others to seek justice in our nation’s courts. Congress is proposing legislation that will make lawsuits brought by injured patients, nursing home residents, and their families nearly impossible to pursue. This so-called “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017” (Bill H.R. 1215) will rig the system against individuals and tip the scales in favor of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and their insurance companies. These bills seek to prevent medical care providers who commit negligence from being held accountable for the injuries and damages they cause. Instead of protecting our most vulnerable citizens, such as nursing home residents, Congress is attempting to enact laws that will benefit only the corporations that run nursing homes and the companies that insure them.

Unfortunately, certain politicians, who are supported in large part by corporations and insurance companies, are proposing these laws that are designed to destroy your right to hold wrongdoers accountable for their negligent acts and omissions.  If passed, the Bills proposed will radically change existing laws and radically limit citizens’ access to courts.  The proposed Bills include the following:

  1. A law designed to protect doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and medical device manufacturers by limiting compensation for injuries caused by their negligence to $250,000, regardless of how egregious their conduct was or how much the injury has devastated a victim’s life.

Medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than a quarter of a million lives every year, more than lung disease, breast cancer, AIDS, plane crashes, drug overdoses, stroke or Alzheimer’s, according to a recent study published by the British Medical Journal. Diagnostic mistakes, lack of communication between treating physicians, inadequate discharge instructions, and incorrect medications are among the leading issues listed as contributing to these fatal medical errors. Only heart disease and cancer take more lives in the United States.Medical Errors

The study, led by Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Makary, believe there needs to be changes in the way deaths are recorded to better tabulate fatal lapses in care to address this very serious problem. “We’re talking about patients dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease or injury for which they seek care. We’re talking about things that happen that shouldn’t happen,” said Dr. Makary. In an open letter, the researchers urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) to immediately add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death.

The study discusses the difficulty in actually tracking the number of medical deaths that come about as a result of physician or hospital error.  This is due to the fact that there are no federal or state requirements for reporting when a patient dies as a result of a medical error. Moreover, the CDC currently has no good way of tracking deaths that result from medical mistakes.  The agency’s death statistics are pulled from the International Classification of Diseases codes that appear on death certificates. These codes were instituted in 1949 and do not include any that indicate a death was the result of a mistake in the hospital. As a result, the researchers believe the study’ actually understates the true incidence of death due to medical error because it relies on errors extractable in documented health records and includes only death that occurred inside of a hospital.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will make data public on eight hospital-acquired conditions in the near future. This data can be found on the CMS website. The data will include mistakes that occur in hospitals, such as foreign objects being left in patients following surgery and the wrong type of blood being given to patients. These and other so-called “hospital-acquired conditions” can be life-threatening.

This data was mysteriously removed from the CMS website recently, which led to criticism by several consumer organizations that publish safety ratings for hospitals. There has been mounting pressure on government officials and hospitals to be more transparent about safety, so that patients considering certain types of surgeries can make more informed choices about the hospital where the surgery will be performed. For example, a patient who chooses to have an elective surgery, such as a hip replacement or knee replacement, can investigate the infection rates at the hospitals they are considering. This is important information because infections can lead to more serious conditions, such as sepsis or septic shock, which can be deadly.

Not surprisingly, many hospital officials around the country opposed this release of information reflecting hospital mistakes. The hospitals contend that some incidents, such as foreign objects being left in patients after surgery, do not happen enough for the information to be reliable. However, a USA Today report in 2013 concluded that foreign objects were retained after surgery as often as 6,000 times a year, which was far greater than the government had estimated. The retention of foreign objects after surgery can lead to infections and other complications that can, in turn, lead to additional surgeries.

Medication errors remain one of the leading causes of injuries and deaths in hospitals. These incidents occur in several, different scenarios.

Medication dosage errors are the most common. It can be particularly dangerous when a decimal point describing the dose is placed in the wrong location. For example, suppose a doctor writes a prescription for Colchicine. Instead of ordering the intended dose of “1.0 mg,” he accidently writes or orders “10.0 mg,” resulting in the patient getting ten times the dose prescribed. This decimal error can have catastrophic consequences for the patient. The higher dose could lead to Colchicine poisoning, which is similar to arsenic poisoning. The patient’s internal organs could shut down and the patient would likely die within twenty-four to seventy-two hours.

Mistaken medication types are another common form of medication error. The names of some drugs are very similar to others, and a pharmacist or hospital nurse can mistake one drug for another, leading to the patient receiving the wrong medication.

Gavel.jpgLast month, the Georgia Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, reversed a decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals in favor of Thelma and Sheldon Johnson, the parents of a teenage boy who died two weeks after he was treated by a physician in an Albany, GA emergency room. The reversal by the court now allows the case to proceed to a jury trial.

At issue in the case was whether the emergency room doctor, Dr. Price Paul Omondi, acted with “gross negligence,” and if the case should be tried by a jury. By statute in Georgia an ER doctor can only be held liable when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that his or her actions showed “gross negligence.” Thus, there is a higher evidentiary burden to bringing a successful medical malpractice claim again a doctor in an emergency room setting.

The facts of this case involve a 15 year old patient who came to the emergency room complaining of chest pain. Eight days prior to his visit to the ER, the boy had undergone an arthroscopic knee surgery to repair an injury sustained playing high school football. Upon admission to the ER, the doctor noted the prior surgery, ordered that he be administered pain medication, an electrocardiogram (“EKG”), and a chest X-ray; he interpreted the results of the EKG and X-ray himself. The ER doctor diagnosed the teen with pleurisy and discharged him from the hospital with a prescription for an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, and instructions to return to the emergency department if his symptoms continued. Tragically, when the teen returned to the hospital a week later complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing he died from a bilateral pulmonary embolism.

A recent study published in Journal of Patient Safety suggests that current estimates of the number of fatal mistakes made by physicians in the United States are far too low. The study found that twice as many patients, between 210,000 and 440,000 patients per year, suffer from preventable medical harm that contributes to their deaths. Previous studies done in this area had suggested there were far less fatal injuries as a result of medical errors. A study done in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine suggested that 98,000 people a year died from mistakes made in hospitals. Another study, performed in 2010 by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services suggested that the number was around 180,000 deaths per year.

The American Hospital Association has disputed these findings, and has indicated that the AHA has more confidence in the Institute of Medicine’s 98,000 number found in the 1999 study. However, if the new estimates are accurate, medical malpractice would be considered the third leading cause of death in America, with only heart disease and cancer killing more Americans. Irrespective of which study is more accurate, there are far too many deaths in the U.S. caused by the negligence of medical providers.

Medical malpractice cases take many forms, but the common thread is that people trusted to care for a patient are responsible for serious harm that could have been avoided. When a medical provider is determined to be legally responsible for your injuries during medical care or treatment, they may be liable for the harms they caused. The attorneys at the Suthers Law Firm have been very successful at holding doctors, nurses, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacists, and other health care providers accountable for medical mistakes or negligent care throughout Georgia and South Carolina. If you feel that you or a loved one has been harmed as a result of medical malpractice, call the Suthers Law Firm at 1-800-320-2384 or go to www.sutherslaw.com for more information.

The birth of a child is normally a joyous occasion for families. However, lives can be turned upside down when a newborn is catastrophically injured or dies during childbirth. There are many things that can go wrong during the labor and delivery process, so doctors and nurses alike must have a heightened awareness of any changes that could indicate fetal distress. The failure to react quickly to signs of fetal distress can lead to catastrophic injuries or the death of a newborn child.

Recently, an Atlanta area hospital was sued in three, separate cases involving the alleged wrongful death of babies, all of which occurred during a two month period. The lawsuits allege that doctors and nurses at South Fulton Medical Center were negligent in not recognizing signs of early labor in one of the cases, delaying a C-section delivery in another case, and neglecting to recognize the signs of fetal distress in the third case. None of the three babies survived.

In the first case involving the alleged failure to recognize the signs of early labor, a pregnant mother who was suffering from fever, back and stomach pain, and a decrease in fetal movement by the baby went to the hospital to be evaluated. She was told that she was suffering from the flu, was given Tylenol, and told that she could leave. No testing was done to determine whether she was in labor. Her pain worsened, so she returned to the hospital the same day and delivered a baby that weighed less than two pounds. The baby died shortly after being delivered.

4 - surgeon with instruments.jpgHospital acquired infections (HAI), also known as “healthcare-associated infections” or “nosocomial” infections, are infections that patients get while undergoing medical treatment in healthcare facilities. They are infections that are not present and without evidence of incubation at the time the patient is admitted to a healthcare facility. Most infections that become clinically evident after 48 hours of a patient’s hospitalization are considered hospital acquired. These infections occur in all types of medical facilities, including hospitals, outpatient surgical and care centers, and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

For example, consider the case of a patient who is admitted to the hospital to undergo orthopedic surgery, such as a hip or knee replacement. The surgery is successful from an orthopedic standpoint. However, while recovering in the hospital, the patient develops a life-threatening Staph infection. Or, consider the case of a patient who undergoes successful surgery to remove a benign growth from her body, only to develop an infection caused by a contaminated surgical instrument. In both cases, the surgeries were considered a success, but the outcomes were dramatically and negatively impacted by the hospital acquired infections. In its February 22, 2012 broadcast, the Today show on NBC featured a story entitled TODAY Investigates: Dirty surgical instruments a problem in the OR, reporting on other, real-life victims of hospital acquired infections.

Hospital acquired infections are among the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States.1 HAIs cause more deaths in the U.S. each year than automobile accidents, fires and drownings combined. Such infections lead to extended hospital stays and result in substantially increased medical costs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study in 2009 which concluded that the medical costs to the U.S. of hospital acquired infections ranges from $28 billion to $34 billion annually.2 Considering the extraordinary costs of HAIs to the public and the government, one would hope that a greater emphasis would be placed on preventing such infections.