Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

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According to the Daily Report, at the center of a medical malpractice retrial in Cobb County, Georgia, is whether an obstetrician will be held liable for a baby born with brain damage in 2008. The baby in question, Tucker Sutton, also called “Mighty Tuck” by his loved ones, sustained the injuries when he became trapped in his mother’s birth canal for 1 minute and 58 seconds – what would have been a death sentence to most. Baby Tucker, however, survived–although he is likely to deal with the resulting health complications for the remainder of his life. In what the news medium has dubbed a “battle of expert witnesses,” experts are expected to debate whether severe brain damage could have been avoided if the defendant obstetrician had delivered the child sooner and by cesarean section.

The previous case, which was tried in 2011, ended in a mistrial “with jurors reportedly favoring the defendant hospital and hung on the defendant obstetrician.” In that first trial, the plaintiff parents requested damages of $50 million – estimated lifetime costs associated with the child’s care. The hospital settled for an undisclosed amount, leaving the doctor as the only defendant in this case. Despite the settlement, and at the insistence of the obstetrician’s counsel, however, the jury will be allowed to apportion fault to the hospital, resulting in a decrease in the amount of any damages the doctor might have to pay.

According to the defendant, the plaintiffs’ birth plan called for a vaginal delivery and there was no viable medical reason to change the plan. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, believe a cesarean section could have mitigated their son’s injuries. Upon hearing this, Georgia Medical malpractice attorneys immediately recognize that the crux of the problem is that C-sections in and of themselves, are not inherently risk-free. In fact, the defendant’s attorney did not hesitate to point this out, telling the jury that the doctor did his part. “”C-sections are not risk-free,” the defendant’s attorney stated. “They carry with them their own complications, especially when infection is present like with this mom.” Plaintiffs argue, however, that after the vaginal birth commenced and it became clear there would be complications, the defendant’s inaction and purported negligence increased the risks for injury, which is why the doctor’s actions are being called into question in the form of a medical malpractice claim.
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The medical malpractice case of Muscogee County former cotton mill worker, Thomas Jackson, lasted for an agonizing eight days, but the resulting $6.7 million jury verdict against a local surgeon may not be as cut-and-dry as it seems. The jury awarded the plaintiff $5.2 million for his medical malpractice claim, and an additional $1.5 million was to go to his wife, Linda, for her loss of consortium claim. A policy limit of $2 million, however, means the man and his wife will likely collect no more than that amount for a hernia repair surgery that culminated in a deadly bacteria infection which almost claimed Mr. Jackson’s life in 2002–all of this according to the Daily Report.

The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice attorney attributes the enormous verdict to fact that the doctor who performed the surgery, absolutely absolved himself of any responsibility. “The doctor’s refusal to accept any responsibility got the jury’s attention, and I don’t think they liked it,” he told the Daily Report. Plaintiff Jackson alleged that the doctor nicked his intestines during surgery and then failed to “adequately inspect Mr. Jackson’s bowel for signs of bowel perforation, specifically including areas of the bowel that he admits were injured during the surgery.”

To make matters worse, it wasn’t until four days after the initial surgery that the doctor returned Jackson to the operating room to repair the injury and even then, it was only at the insistence of a Morehouse medical student who suspected the source of plaintiff’s infection might be his stomach. By then, however, it was too late and the infection had firmly set in. In its own defense, the hospital where the surgery took place, the Medical Center of Columbus, claimed that the doctor’s actions constituted recognized risk on the part of Mr. Jackson, as opposed to medical malpractice, yet it went on to settle with the plaintiffs prior to trial for an undisclosed amount. The doctor stubbornly refused to settle and denied liability up until the very last day of trial. Jackson credits the Morehouse student with saving his life.
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The United States has recently seen one of the most distressing and deadly outbreaks of fungal meningitis in years. While not contagious, fungal meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord with symptoms include headache, fever and nausea, and even death. This particular outbreak has gradually morphed into a medical scandal of sorts, with multiple media outlets covering the story after the source of the disease was traced back to one U.S. company that, unfortunately, had a wide-reaching arm. In the wake of the health scandal, the New England Compounding Center (NECC), the Massachusetts-based company responsible for distributing hundreds of contaminated vials of steroids across the country has finally recalled the product.

Unfortunately, despite these corrective measures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the number of reported cases has continued to increase at an alarming rate, with approximately 205 incidents reported across 14 states. Of those cases reported, fifteen deaths have ensued, with Tennessee being the hardest-hit state. Even more cases may soon emerge, since an estimated 14,000 people were in receipt of the vials.

For medical malpractice attorneys, the outbreak has brought attention to the possible need for reform in the medical malpractice arena. At the same time, in engaging in conversations about it, many of us are aware that all too often regulation changes do not come until after a large scale incident like this one has already occurred. So where exactly did the problem stem from, and were there warning signs that this might happen?
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As you may have read, I recently wrote regarding lawsuits that are currently pending in Mississippi, where the proponents of the suits are seeking to have the stat’s cap on tort damages overturned. However, it seems that Mississippi is not the only state that is currently facing this issue. In Missouri, after winning a recent lawsuit challenging the state’s noneconomic damages cap, Missouri doctors continue to fight another battle threatening to overturn the recovery limit, while Plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to seek to overturn the limit.

According to Amednews.com, the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled on April 3rd in Sanders v. Ahmed that the state’s noneconomic damages cap for medical malpractice or medical negligence cases was constitutional. The cap, adopted in 1986, impacts cases in which the alleged negligence happened before 2005. The limit was enacted at $350,000 but is now at more than $600,000 due to inflation. The second suit, which the state high court has yet to decide, centers on Missouri’s latest $350,000 award limit. The cap impacts all medical liability or medical malpractice lawsuits starting in 2005. A decision in the case, Watts v. Cox, is expected by the summer, said attorneys involved in the case.

In Sanders v. Ahmed, a patient’s family said the cap used to reduce their jury award from $9.2 million to $1.2 million violated the Missouri Constitution. The family had filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Paulette Sanders, who died in 2005. Relatives claimed neurologist Iftekhar Ahmed, MD, failed to recognize and treat a fatal side effect resulting from a medication he prescribed to Sanders. Dr. Ahmed denied wrongdoing.

After winning at trial, the family filed a motion fighting the award reduction. A trial court upheld the reduction, and the family appealed. In their opinion, Supreme Court justices said the Legislature has the authority to enact damages caps.

“The remedy available in a statutorily created cause of action is a matter of law, not fact, and not within the purview of the jury,” the court said. “To hold otherwise would be to tell the Legislature it could not legislate; it could neither create nor negate causes of action and in doing so could not prescribe the measure of damages for the same. This court never has so held and declines to do so now.”
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Hospital representatives and trial lawyers clashed Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee over a bill that would give patients an alternative method for resolving medical malpractice claims. Senate Bill 406 was passed by a wide margin in the Senate last month. Now, both House and Senate leaders are eager to get the committee’s endorsement and have the measure approved by the full House.

According to Union Leader.com, the bill would establish an “early offer” program in which a patient could voluntarily seek a settlement with a medical provider. The settlement would be based on medical costs and lost wages, plus a severity of injury payment ranging from $1,700 for minor harm to $117,500 for grave harm or death. Should both parties agree to participate in the process, the settlement would be reached in a matter of months.

If patients are dissatisfied with the medical provider’s offer, they still could pursue a traditional lawsuit. Although allowing injured patients more than one way to seek justice and recovery may seem positive, it is not in this case. If a patient was dissatisfied with the offer, they indeed could proceed with a traditional lawsuit, but the case would be judged under the standards for gross negligence, which is much more difficult to prove than malpractice. Bill supporters say it would significantly reduce the expense and time of malpractice cases, which take, on average, nearly four years to reach resolution in New Hampshire. More broadly, they say the bill would help reduce medical costs.

As reported by the Union Leader.com, trial lawyers are staunchly against the bill, which they say favors insurers and hospitals. “The people who will end up using this system will be the poor, the uneducated and the uninformed,” said Maureen Raiche Manning, the president of the New Hampshire Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers.
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After visiting our physicians, we trust our local pharmacist to accurately fill our prescriptions. In order to do so, most pharmacists rely on computerized warning systems which alert then if there are potentially dangerous effects or conflicts with the drugs that they are prescribing to a particular patient. However, a recently conducted study revealed that the vast majority of computerized drug warning alerts generated in hospitals are overridden, suggesting that these systems need refinement. Not only do the systems need refinement, but medical providers should be more alert, otherwise more and more patients will be put at risk, which will likely lead to those providers being held liable in medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to Medpagetoday.com, among 40,391 medication orders issued during a one-year period, only 4% were accepted, reported Amy Knight, MD, of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. Computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems have been developed to generate warnings when there is the possibility of allergy, adverse events, interactions, and duplications, with the intent of increasing inpatient safety.

“However, the problem with these computerized warning systems is that providers develop ‘alert fatigue’ and end up overriding many potentially important warnings,” Knight said at the annual meeting of the Society of Hospital Medicine.

These study results dovetail with research published this week, which found that medication alerts generated by an electronic medical record system were frequently frustrating to prescribers. For this retrospective study, Knight’s group sought to clarify the factors associated with accepting or overriding a warning, with the goal of providing data for developers of these systems to improve their efficacy and utility.
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As a result of their injuries, medical malpractice victims often face a lifetime of pain and suffering, whether it be physical or emotional, as the result of the damage they suffered at the hands of a negligent health care professional. And now, a proposed piece of Tennessee legislation threatens to add to that suffering, and possibly infringe on the privacy of the victim, and may also make it harder for medical malpractice victims to prevail in their lawsuits.

If House Bill 2979 passes the Tennessee legislature, and is enacted into law, Tennesseans who file a medical malpractice suit against a doctor or healthcare facility could find themselves opening up their lifetime’s medical records to scrutiny. According to The Murfreesboro Post, House Bill 2979 is currently being considered by the state House Judiciary Committee. If it is passed, the bill would permit healthcare providers to give open access to the medical records of a victim of medical malpractice who files a claim in court.

The bill would supersede federal HIPAA laws and allow an attorney, representing a healthcare provider, to get access to a plaintiff’s lifetime of medical history, including any and all mental-health and past drug or alcohol-abuse treatments, whether or not the information pertains to the medical malpractice claim.

Attorney Matt Hardin, a partner with a Tennessee law firm, says that while the committee appears ready to pass the bill, there may be further issues ahead. According to Hardin, “I believe the bill is in violation of federal law because it effectively is less restrictive than what the federal law is. HIPAA was drafted to protect the privacy of patients. When looking at this issue I found that 34 other states currently have strong restrictions in place that don’t allow this type of communication.”
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In 2009, John Harrison, a then 63 year old oil industry sales manager in Mission, Texas, had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a routine procedure that usually requires at most a single night’s stay in the hospital, followed by physical therapy. For Harrison, however, there was nothing routine about the ordeal that ensued, which eventually led to Harrison filing a medial malpractice lawsuit against the hospital that rendered his treatment.

According to the Center for Public Integrity’s iwatch News, in the weeks following the surgery, his scar turned bright red, hot to the touch, and oozed thick fluid that looked “like butter squeezed from a bag.” Alarmed, Harrison’s wife, Laura, called The Methodist Hospital in Houston, where the surgery was performed, to inform them of the problem. That night, surgeons opened up Harrison’s shoulder and found that infection had eaten away part of his shoulder bone and rotator cuff. After Harrison underwent surgery to remedy these issues, he imagined his nightmare was over. But in reality, it had just begun. Since then, what began as a simple operation has turned into a lengthy struggle that left him suffering from personal injuries for months at a time, dependent on hired nurses, unable to dress himself, take a shower, or work, and afraid for his life.

Harrison at first blamed himself, thinking he had not taken proper care of his surgical wound. The truth was much worse: Harrison was one of at least seven joint surgery patients at Methodist who acquired dangerous infections during a two-week period. The outbreak led Methodist to close operating rooms and cancel knee and shoulder surgeries while hospital and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigators searched for the cause.

They found two likely sources in unlikely, yet terrifying, spots, deep inside a handheld power tool called an arthroscopic shaver, which surgeons use to shave away bone and tissue during surgery, and inside a long narrow metal tube called an inflow/outflow cannula, which is used to irrigate and suction the surgical site.
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Are hospitals doing all they can when it comes to patient safety? The February issue of Washingtonian magazine addresses that very question in an article entitled “Minor Mistakes, Deadly Results.” The story presents some alarming data when it comes to this issue. Despite touting stringent procedures in the operating room and on the floor, medical malpractice certainly isn’t a thing of the past: In 2010 alone faulty medical care contributed to the deaths of 15,000 Medicare patients per month. The author writes that hospitals “are hierarchical organizations resistant to change, they haven’t done enough to create environments in which patient safety is a priority.” 15,000 deaths per month is a rather hefty number, and it may just get at the core reason why hospitals have been reluctant to publicly share patient-safety data. The Institute of Medicine has estimated preventable errors resulted in as many as 100,000 deaths annually in US hospitals.

In many cases, hospital mistakes are easily avoidable – a fact which raises key questions for wrongful death attorneys about internal structure and methodology. Washingtonian recants one instance in 2009 where the hospital staff’s failure to follow physician orders resulted in an elderly woman contracting an infection in her leg. The woman was taken to another hospital where her leg was amputated, but five months later she died from complications. An investigation the DC Department of Health revealed that staff had only to take off the patient’s compression stockings after each shift for at least 30 minutes.
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Having a parent in an assisted living arrangement is hard for the entire family. It is difficult for the parent who may not be able to interact with their family as often as they would like, and it is also difficult for the children who worry whether their parent is being taken care of in a way that respects their parent’s dignity. However, in the case of two brothers in Houston, Texas, the facility that was charged with the care of their father failed to ensure that he was cared for properly.

According to the Chron.com, two brothers were visiting their sick father at a west Houston hospital last year when they noticed ants and gnats crawling through a trachea tube and into his larynx, according to a medical malpractice and negligence civil lawsuit filed in Harris County District Court.

As reported by Chron.com, the two brothers were visiting their father, Willie Lee Simmons, 69, who was being treated at Select Specialty Hospital-Houston West for severe respiratory problems before he died last year, said Derek Deyon, an attorney representing the man’s estate. The family alleges that workers at the hospital were negligent when they allowed insects to crawl into the tube, among other instances of negligence, he said. The lawsuit was filed January 12, 2012.

According to a spokesman for Select Medical, which owns the facility, the company had not been served with a lawsuit, and the spokesman went on to say that “the allegation of negligence is simply not true.” The spokesman, Edwin Bodensiek, defended the facility by stating “They keep their rooms and their equipment clean and sanitary. We would take complaints extremely seriously and we act immediately to correct them and that was done in this case.”

Select Medical, the defendant in the law suit filed by Simmons’ family and his estate, operates 110 long-term acute care hospitals and 952 outpatient rehabilitation clinics nationwide. And, according to Bodensiek “[Select Medical is] obsessed with quality and I would say our patients’ well-being is our top priority.”
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