Medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States next to cancer and heart disease. Moreover, 250,000 Americans die from medical errors annually, a study by Johns Hopkins found, while other sources say it’s actually as many as 440,000. Medical malpractice is when healthcare professionals fail to deliver quality care and, either through an omission or negligent act, harm, injure, or kill their patients. Every year, there are a number of medical malpractice suits that involve such staggering amounts of compensation or details so shocking that they make the headlines.
Legally defining medical malpractice
To be considered medical malpractice, it’s not enough for the patient to simply be unhappy with their treatment. First, the case must involve a violation to the standard of care (medical professionals legally must keep to set medical standards). Harm or injury must also be present as a direct result of the negligence. This injury must also result in significant damages like lost wages, extreme pain and suffering, disability, or considerable medical bills. Medical malpractice takes many forms, including: incorrect diagnosis, premature discharge, incorrect medication, poor aftercare, botched surgery, and surgical errors. In fact, events that should never occur in surgery happen at least 4,000 times a year in the U.S.
Fortunately, surgical mistakes attorneys can help injured patients build claims, prove they’re justified, and win compensation for harm caused. Families can therefore pay for medical bills, be compensated for pain and suffering, and supplement lost wages.
Fatal infection in NICU
In September 2019, three premature babies died in an outbreak of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the neonatal intensive care unit at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania. Five other babies survived infection with one sustaining a permanent brain injury. DNA testing traced the infection back to dirty equipment used to measure and administer breast milk. Attorney Matt Casey represented the parents of the baby with the brain injury: “That type of injury will require intensive medical care for the rest of that child’s life”, he said. The family also had a second baby who died in the NICU. “While they are certainly heartbroken over the death of one of their children, they have a really long road ahead of them for the care of their child who survived”.
Geisinger recently settled with the families and admitted fault, although specific terms haven’t been publicized. “They’ve taken unprecedented steps as a consequence of litigation to accept responsibility, not for simply the infections occurring, but for them being the legal cause of these [deaths and injuries],” Casey said. “The loss of a child is tragic, and this settlement can never replace these young children, however we believe we have taken the steps necessary to prevent future infections and spare other families from this loss”, said Geisinger president and CEO, Jaewon Ryu, MD, JD.
In November 2019, a jury in Chicago, IL, reached a record $101 million verdict for a 5-year-old boy born with severe brain damage. The boy’s mother and the hospital agreed to lower the compensation to $50 million as long as the hospital wouldn’t appeal. In August 2014, the mother gave birth at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, IL. Shortly after being admitted, she reported decreased fetal movement. However, medical staff only realized the serious nature of this issue five hours later. A medical expert testified the brain injury wouldn’t have occurred if staff had immediately alerted doctors, who should have performed an emergency C-section.
“There was a complete lack of communication and proper care for this new mother and her newborn,” the mother’s lawyer said. “All of the signs were present that this baby needed help and no one cared.” The child is unable to walk, sit up, or speak on his own and the mother has to provide 24/7 care. The compensation will pay for his lifelong care.
Unauthorized private part surgery
In 2014, a man had an operation at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California to remove a mass in his scrotum. However, the surgeon discovered the mass had grown onto the private part. He then removed the mass along with a significant part of the private part, leaving the private part disfigured and dysfunctional. As a result, the patient filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and surgeon for unauthorized private part surgery he hadn’t consented to. The jury recently awarded the plaintiff $22,246 in economic damages and $9.25 million in non-economic damages; this supersedes California’s $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits. The plaintiff was awarded such a large settlement as the suit also claimed battery, allowing the jury to skirt the limit for professional negligence.
Medical negligence is an all too common occurrence. With medical malpractice law, families can win compensation for injury and loss caused by substandard care.