Medical Malpractice Common Errors
We go to the emergency room when we are seriously ill or injured. We don’t expect that these same doctors will cause us serious harm or death. Unfortunately, hospital errors are all too common. As many as 251,000 people die from medical malpractice every year – the third leading cause of death in American behind heart disease and cancer.
While doctors are human and make mistakes, the mistakes they make can be deadly. There are many errors that can lead to serious injuries, death and medical malpractice lawsuits. Read on to learn about the most common hospital errors.
Delay in Diagnosis or Treatment
While doctors cannot successfully diagnose or treat every ailment within minutes, it’s important that they administer the appropriate medical tests so they can find the cause of the pain. Some doctors are quick to give generic diagnoses simply by guessing—without running tests.
When a diagnosis is made, some doctors fail to begin treatment in a timely manner. They adopt a wait-and-see attitude. As a result, patients feel worse than before, end up in the emergency room again and often have to have immediate surgeries or even end up dying.
Diagnostic Errors Responsible for One-Third of Medical Malpractice Claims
There are many types of negligence that can lead to a medical malpractice claim. In some cases a surgeon makes a critical error while performing a procedure. Other times a patient is prescribed the incorrect type or dosage of medication. According to at least one medical malpractice insurer, the “number-one common root cause” of most negligence claims are diagnostic-related errors.
Cancer the Most Common Misdiagnosis
Boston-based medical professional liability insurer Coversys reviewed over 10,000 malpractice claims resolved between 2013 and 2017. Coversys found that one-third of these claims–33 percent–were the result of a diagnostic error. The next-most common causes were, in order, surgical and procedural mistakes (24 percent), medical management (14 percent), medication-related errors (9 percent), problems with the patient’s environment or safety (4 percent), obstetrics-related problems (4 percent), patient monitoring errors (3 percent), and finally anesthesia-related mistakes (3 percent).
Not surprisingly, diagnostic-related errors also took up the largest share of damages paid to malpractice victims. Coversys said diagnostic mistakes represented 47 percent of the total “indemnity paid” over the five-year period it reviewed. This was more than double the amount paid in the next-largest category, which was surgical and procedural errors (18 percent of indemnity paid).
Breaking down the specific numbers for diagnostic errors, Coversys found that 53 percent of claims reflected “risk management issues involving poor clinical decision-making.” Similarly, 54 percent of claims were “high-severity cases” and that 36 percent of these diagnostic errors “result[ed] in death.”
Coversys noted that “[v]ulnerabilities in the diagnostic process can begin with the first patient and continue all the way through to the follow-up after evaluation, testing, and treatment.” Indeed, 33 percent of the claims related to diagnostic error arose from mistakes made during the initial “evaluation of the patient.” And in 22 percent of cases there were either errors made in ordering lab tests and/or interpreting the results of those tests. Other categories of diagnostic errors identified by Coversys included the performance of a given test, receipt and transmittal of the test results, and improper referral of a patient for follow-up treatment.
While surgical errors often grab the most attention and headlines, in fact Coversys said only 9 percent of diagnosis-related malpractice claims were made against surgeons. General medicine was the specialty most likely to face such claims, representing 24 percent of all cases reviewed, followed by the hospitals themselves (19 percent), and radiologists (14 percent).
Finally, as you might expect the most common condition involved in diagnosis errors was cancer (27 percent), followed by infections (13 percent), and cardiovascular problems (8 percent).
Inadequate Monitoring After Surgery
Surgeries are risky procedures, and it’s important for medical staff to monitor patients afterward to ensure that the anesthesia has worn off and the patient can breathe without assistance.
Patients often need medications afterward to reduce the risk of infection and their vital signs should be monitored frequently. If the patient becomes seriously ill or dies due to a lack of post-operative follow-up from medical staff, the hospital can be held liable.
Failure to Use Test Results
Some doctors order tests and then never look at the results. These results can mean the difference between life and death. If you know that you had tests done, you may need to be proactive and ask your doctor to give you the results.
Nurses and other medical staff often treat dozens of patients in one day. A lack of organization can cause medication errors. A patient may receive the wrong dose of medication, or even the wrong drug altogether.
This can cause the patient to overdose and possibly die. The patient could also suffer a serious reaction to the medication if he or she has an allergy.
These often occur during surgery. The surgeon may accidentally puncture an organ or cut a major artery, causing internal bleeding or death. Another common situation involves leaving surgical tools inside a patient’s body.
While surgeries come with risks, doctors need to take extra precautions in situations where one wrong move could mean life or death. It may be helpful to seek assistance from other medical staff in complex situations.
How Ohio Law Treats Malpractice Claims Involving “Foreign Objects”
One of the more common–and frightening–forms of medical malpractice occurs when a doctor manages to somehow leave a “foreign object” inside of a patient. Depending on the type and nature of the object, the patient may suffer serious, life-threatening complications weeks, months, or even years after the initial surgery. And once the patient learns about the foreign object, the legal clock starts ticking immediately to bring a malpractice claim against the negligent doctor.
Appeals Court: Hernia Mesh May Qualify as “Foreign Object”
Ohio law governing the time limits of medical malpractice lawsuits is quite complex. A recent decision from the Eighth District Court of Appeals here in Cleveland, Vucsco v. Cleveland Urology Associates, Inc., demonstrates just how such time limits can threaten a viable malpractice claim before it is even heard in court. Fortunately, this particular decision resulted in a favorable outcome for the malpractice victim.
The plaintiff in this case required hernia surgery, which the defendant performed in March 2010. Four years later, the plaintiff returned to the defendant, complaining of “pain, irritation, and bleeding” from an abscess caused by the surgery. A year later, in November 2015, the abscess ruptured.
What happened next is a critical point in the plaintiff’s subsequent medical malpractice claim. The plaintiff said there was a “gauze-like material” seen “protruding from the abscess.” The defendant allegedly removed this material and put it in the trash. The plaintiff’s wife then recovered the material. An expert witness retained by the plaintiff later said the material was a “foul-smelling foreign body” that was likely a piece of hernia mesh implanted during the 2010 hernia repair surgery. The defendant denied the material was hernia mesh and claimed he “had never seen the object being presented by the plaintiffs.”
So why does any of this matter? Well, the plaintiff filed his lawsuit in November 2016, just under one year after the defendant removed the alleged hernia mesh. The defense nevertheless argued the lawsuit was barred by Ohio’s statute of repose. This is a state law that says a victim normally cannot file a medical malpractice lawsuit more than 4 years after the “occurrence” giving rise to the claim. Here, the defense argued the 4-year clock started to run on the date of the original hernia repair surgery in 2010, meaning the plaintiff’s right to sue expired in 2014.
There is an exception to the four-year rule, however, when the claim is based on allegations the doctor left a “foreign object” in the victim’s body. In that case, the statute of repose is extended to one year after the discovery of the object. Under this exception, the plaintiff’s lawsuit could proceed.
The trial court determined the exception did not apply, holding there was “no evidence that a ‘foreign object’ was negligently left in the [plaintiff’s] body.” The Court of Appeals disagreed. It noted state law did not expressly define what qualifies as a “foreign object.” And while that term normally applies to items like surgical tools, the appeals court said “other items may constitute foreign objects depending on the circumstances involved,” including the alleged hernia mesh in this case.
Let an Ohio Medical Malpractice Attorney Handle Your Claim
Medical malpractice can be caused by many factors and lead to various injuries. Unfortunately, this type of negligence is quite common. By filing a personal injury lawsuit, you can hold the negligent doctor liable so that this situation can be avoided in the future.
If you believe you are a victim of medical negligence, call the personal injury attorneys at Tittle & Perlmuter. We are committed to each client and will look out for your best interests. For a consultation, contact our law firm today at (216) 242-1361.