As a medical malpractice attorney, I get a lot of questions from potential clients who are unsure if what happened to them might be medical malpractice. I know, though, that there are many people who don’t ever get as far as making an appointment with me because they aren’t aware that the harm they experienced in a hospital, clinic, doctor’s office, or dentist’s office might be medical malpractice. This doesn’t sit right with me, so I’ve put together a list of 11 of the most common types of medical malpractice cases I see.
Because I am a registered nurse, it’s especially important to me that people who have been harmed by medical professionals and medical institutions know their legal options. I don’t want anyone to continue to suffer because of someone else’s negligence. After reading this list, if you want to talk to me in person about what happened to you or your loved one, please call my office today so we can set up a free consultation.
There are many types of injuries that can occur to the child during the birth process, and they can be caused in a number of ways. Many people are familiar with brachial and cerebral palsy, a weakness of the arm or brain caused during birth and resulting in life-long impaired function. Others have heard of forceps wounds and infections occurring during the birth process. A detailed list of birth injury symptoms is available here. However, birth injuries can also occur during pregnancy, like when a person is prescribed a drug or inaccurately informed that they are not pregnant, leading them to continue to drink or engage in behavior unsafe for the unborn child. For example, in a recent medical malpractice case here in Georgia, a woman was prescribed a blood pressure drug and instructed by her doctor to take it throughout her pregnancy, even though the drug had known risks to the unborn child. The doctor didn’t adequately inform the patient of those risks, so she believed it was safe to continue taking the prescription. The child suffered a stroke in the womb and was born with extensive health problems that will negatively affect the child throughout their life. The mother sued that doctor for medical malpractice and won.
As a nurse, I know a misdiagnosis can have a huge impact on your life and long-term health. So many injuries and illnesses must be treated as soon as possible to prevent further or long-lasting damage. I’ve seen cases where a person’s cancer was misdiagnosed, and the patient continued to suffer as they paid for treatments that had no chance of helping them. And all the while, their cancer got worse and even spread, making it much harder to treat once they had the correct diagnosis. I’ve also seen cases where a heart condition wasn’t tested for and the patient’s symptoms were dismissed altogether, which of course is life-threatening to the patient who came to this hospital or doctor for help. I remember one case when the ER misdiagnosed a severe spinal injury. By the time the injury was properly diagnosed, my client was in agony and the delay in the necessary treatment for their injury resulted in permanent damage that will affect the rest of their life. Together, we sued the ER for the misdiagnosis and my client a $5.2 million settlement. As a nurse, I know that settlement won’t undo the damage and pain you’ve endured, but it does hold the medical professionals and institutions responsible for their errors. And it gives you compensation for the ways someone else’s error harmed your body and negatively affected your life, which will help you pay for your resulting medical treatments and those you’ll need going forward.
You can imagine—or maybe you know personally—that a delayed diagnosis not only prolongs your health problems, but it can cause new ones. If your doctor claims your severe abdominal cramping and bleeding are just period pains, delaying your diagnosis of uterine cancer, you might lose your ability to have children and the cancer may spread to other places in the body. If a nurse dismisses your complaints of lightheadedness caused by low blood pressure until you collapse, you could end up with a traumatic head injury. Unfortunately, both as a nurse and an attorney, I have witnessed some truly heartbreaking outcomes to delayed diagnoses. If you feel ignored, if you don’t feel satisfied with a diagnosis, if treatments aren’t working, if you’ve been accused of seeking attention or hypochondria, I always encourage people to get a second opinion. When that isn’t possible, maybe because of insurance problems, research your condition and repeatedly ask for more tests and for other ideas of what could be causing your symptoms. Your future health is at stake, and once you have the correct diagnosis, together we can hold accountable the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers who kept you from being treated properly because of their delayed diagnosis.
Failure to Treat
It’s shocking, but I have seen cases where a doctor or healthcare professional simply refused to treat a patient. Sometimes they do so by not monitoring a patient’s condition properly, not performing required medical tests, or not referring a patient to a specialist in a timely manner. Some institutions have also refused to treat a patient because of their lack of insurance or because the clinic or hospital doesn’t accept the patient’s insurance. Infuriatingly, I have had clients who sat in the waiting room for hours after a stroke or heart attack, when they should have been triaged and treated immediately. I was an emergency room nurse, and when I hear a story of a hospital refusing to do the proper scan to detect blood clots or ordering a patient’s release when they remain extremely ill with no known cause, I know they’ve committed medical malpractice. Together, we can make sure that the people and institutions responsible are held accountable for what they put you through.
As with all medical malpractice cases, surgical error cases hinge on the standard of care. Once we’ve established what another reasonable medical care provider would have done in the same situation, we can show that what actually occurred did not meet that standard of care and detail how the error caused you harm. I’ve seen cases where negligent surgeons left surgical instruments inside their patient’s bodies, performed the wrong surgery on the wrong patient or on the wrong location of the body. Preventable surgical errors are the result of negligence and can lead to surgical complicationssuch as infections, shock, hemorrhage, or stroke. And they often mean the patient needs more surgeries and must stay in the hospital longer. In one heartbreaking case I recently took to court, two surgeons failed to properly plan for the surgery and cut a major artery in their patient, a beloved father, resulting in extensive suffering and 11 additional surgeries before his ultimate death. This is an area when my background as a nurse is particularly important because I have medical knowledge to know what should happen before, during, and after specific surgeries, and I know who to hire as expert witnesses to testify about substandard care in court.
When a patient is under the effects of anesthesia, they have to be closely monitored. While under, the patient is unable to swallow and is at risk of choking or aspirating if not positioned and monitored closely. An adverse position and low blood pressure could also cut off or restrict blood flow to the brain during the procedure, known as hypoxia, which can result in permanent brain damage. The anesthesiologist might give the patient too much medicine, making them at risk of not waking up at all, or not enough medicine, leaving them aware and feeling pain throughout their procedure or surgery. An anesthesiologist may fail to recognize the signs that the patient is allergic to the medicine or having an adverse reaction to it, or may give the patient the wrong medicine, including one the patient has stated that they are allergic to. These types of errors are sometimes called anesthesia malpractice, but are all medical malpractice.
Defective Medical Device
Poorly designed or maintained medical equipment such as scalpels, forceps, and even hospital beds and dialysis machines can harm a person. And it’s a wider problem than many people realize. In 2016, for example, the FDA recalled more than 500 medical devices. And so far this year, the FDA has issued 14 notices of device recalls. Unfortunately, though, by the time a recall occurs, at least one patient has already been harmed or even killed by the devices. There are 4 major types of defects based on where the defects occurred and how they affect patients: design, manufacturing, instruction, and recall. If a scalpel, for example, was design without enough textured grip in the right place, it might slip out of the surgeon’s hand during surgery. Even a slip of a millimeter could have deadly consequences. A manufacturing defect, by contrast, means a device wasn’t made correctly. In a scalpel, for example, a flaw may have been introduced to the metal of the blade, weakening it and allowing an incredibly sharp sliver to break off inside a patient’s body. An instruction defect is most common with machines like a dialysis machine. If the instructions on how to properly use the machine or calibrate its sensors aren’t clear enough, or if differences in this machine and others like it aren’t noted in a significant way, the machine could cause harm to the patient. Finally, a recall defect is when a manufacturer is informed of an FDA recall but continues to sell the product anyway, or when a hospital or doctor’s office is informed of a recall but continues to use the device anyway. Any of these kinds of defects could harm a patient and would constitute medical malpractice.
Prescription Drug Error
This error occurs most often when a patient is given the wrong drug, the wrong dose of a drug, or a drug the patient has stated they are allergic to. Any such error can lead to extensive harm or even death in a patient. I’ve also encountered cases where the medical complications for the drug error were more extensive and harmful than the initial injury or condition that prompted the patient to seek medical care. This happened some years ago with a young college student who developed an infection. His entry paperwork, taken in the ER, shows that he has a penicillin allergy. When his parents arrived the next day, he had been given a penicillin-based drug multiple times and was experiencing anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. His father, a doctor, checked his chart and alerted the hospital to the error. If the young man hadn’t been given a drug he was allergic to, he would have likely gone home the day after he came to the hospital. Instead, he had a life-threatening reaction and might have died if his father hadn’t been a doctor and hadn’t noticed the error.
Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI)
When you picture a doctor, a nurse, or a surgeon in your mind, you probably imagine a person in scrubs, maybe wearing a white coat, possibly with their hair covered or wearing a mask and latex gloves. Every aspect of this clothing is designed and used to prevent the transfer of germs between the medical professional and the patient. Additional layers of protection or necessary depending on how sick a patient is and whether the patient, for example, is having surgery. It’s also extremely important that medical professionals don’t inadvertently share germs between patients, especially when very ill patients are in rooms right next to each other. To prevent this, every hospital, clinic, and doctor’s office has detailed procedures to keep patients safe. You’ve probably noticed your doctor using hand sanitizer or washing their hands as soon as they walk into your room. Hospitals must carefully clean all surfaces, bedding, and even the air to prevent the spread of illness and keep people from developing infections. And if you are having surgery or have an open wound, the hospital has procedures specifically designed to keep your wounds and the site of your surgery free from infection. Surgical tools are ruthlessly sterilized, as are the people performing and assisting in the surgery. So if you acquire an infection while in the hospital, it occurred because part of the procedures weren’t followed, or because your environment wasn’t sterilized properly. And this, too, is medical malpractice.
Bedsores are the common name for pressure ulcers which develop due to the patient’s weight being left on certain points of the body for prolonged periods. They are most common in patients who can’t move or shift their bodies on their own, such as a person who uses a wheelchair, who wears a cast, or who spends most or all of their time in bed. Bedsores are most common in elderly adults, and the warning signsof these ulcers include a change in skin color or texture, swelling, tenderness, and a pus-like draining. If these warning signs are ignored, an ulcer can open on the patient’s body. The use of medical devices like special air mattresses to help shift the body on the bed and relieve pressure have made bedsores less common, but they are still a sign of neglect that patients and families should pay special attention to. They’re also very painful, and can’t be seen easily because they develop on the shoulders, back, buttocks, and other parts of the body that spend the most time in contact with the bed or chair. Tissue damage, if left untreated, can become infected or go so deep it reaches the bone. Said simply, bedsores don’t develop if the patient is being cared for properly and they don’t develop overnight.
Anyone who’s ever had a tooth ache knows that dental problems can dramatically affect your entire body and well-being. Dental mistakes are most commonly associated with damage to the teeth, jaw, and soft tissues in the mouth, leading to extensive pain and suffering, but they can also lead to additional medical problems, like migraines, nerve damage, dangerous weight loss, throat infections, and sinus problems. But people often don’t realize that dentists and oral surgeons are beholden to a standard of care just like surgeons, nurses, and other medical professionals. So dentists and oral surgeons can be sued for medical malpractice just like other kinds of medical professionals. It’s still medical malpractice if the failure to treat, diagnosis delays, misdiagnosis, or surgical errors you experienced was caused by a dentist or oral surgeon.
If you’ve experienced any of the above 11 types of medical malpractice, or if you suspect you might have, please contact my office right away to set up your free consultation. Most medical malpractice lawsuits have to be filed within two years of the injury that resulted from the neglectful action or inaction. However, there are exceptions, as with birth injuries.