This past summer, we wrote about a law in Indiana that prevents medical malpractice victims from receiving fair and adequate compensation when their lives are drastically altered by a doctor’s medical error. In its current form, Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act, Ind. Code. Ann. § 34-18-14-3, places an absolute cap on compensation for losses such as medical bills, pain, suffering, the cost of future medical care, a loss of wages or any loss of a normal life at $1.25 million. This law has caused families to go bankrupt, lose their homes or live on welfare because of a medical mistake that was no fault of their own. Recently, however, a family from Evansville, Indiana has challenged the constitutionality of this law. Continue reading
Last week, NBC Nightly News reported on a shocking study by the National Academy of Medicine regarding medical errors in the United States. According to the report “most Americans will get a wrong or late diagnosis in their lifetimes… often with devastating effects.” Dr. John Ball, chairman of the Committee on Diagnostic Error in Medicine and an author of the study put it more bluntly by stating “everyone will experience one meaningful diagnostic error in their lifetime.”
The statistics are shocking. For example, the study analyzes that “diagnostic errors contribute to 10 percent of patient deaths” and a staggering “6 to 17 percent of adverse events in hospitals.” However, patients often never know these high and unacceptable numbers. The report explains that the lack of a uniform medical system in the United States contributes to keeping these numbers “under the radar” making it very difficult to quantify how many people are seriously injured by medical errors. The report calls this situation both an under-represented and understudied issue area in medicine. Continue reading
In less than a week, the state of Illinois will be without a budget unless Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratically controlled state legislature can come to an agreement. For the past several months, Governor Rauner has refused to sign a budget unless the budget includes a number of “pro business” regulations that he believes are important for Illinois’ economy. So far, the Legislature has rebuffed working with Rauner on these non-budget regulations until an actual budget is passed. One such regulation advocated by Governor Rauner is tort reform, a law designed to limit how much compensation a victim of medical malpractice or other serious personal injuries can receive from judge or jury of their peers. Continue reading
Every year, tens of thousand of serious medical errors are made in American hospitals. However, only a fraction of those unnecessary mistakes lead to medical malpractice lawsuits. There are many reasons as to why it is so difficult to hold a doctor or hospital accountable for a serious injury resulting from a careless mistake. Earlier this week, the New York Times examined one such frustration: institutional restrictions for our active duty military treated at VA hospitals.
The article summarizes an alarming problem that describes America’s 1.3 million active-duty service members as “captives of the military system, unable, without specific approval, to get care elsewhere if they fear theirs is substandard or dangerous.” The article goes on to note that if the patient is harmed or even killed, the service member or his or her surviving family has no legal right to challenge the care or file a medical malpractice suit. Just as frustrating is a lack of information provided by the military. Even in cases where the hospital is required to investigate a suspected malpractice situation, the investigation is internal and confidential. Thus, the injured patient or their family may never know why a loved one was harmed or whether steps are being taken to prevent another service member from suffering from the same mistake. Continue reading
After seven long years of legal battles, a jury in Denver, Colorado recently reached a 17.8 million dollar verdict against Children’s Hospital of Colorado. According to Denver’s KCNC TV, the jury found the hospital liable for causing permanent brain damage to a four-day-old girl after the hospital caused the baby to go into cardiac arrest while performing a routine procedure. The verdict is believed to be the largest award of damages in a medical malpractice case in Colorado history.
Naomi Pressley was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect shortly after her birth in 2008. Four days later she was transferred to Children’s Hospital to undergo routine surgery to repair her heart. Prior to the surgery, doctors administered prostaglandin, a drug used to stabilize an infant’s heart during the period prior to surgery. As Yahoo News notes, jurors concluded doctors violated the medical standard of care by administering the wrong dosage of this drug, which caused Naomi to have a heart attack while on the operating table. It took doctors more than 33 minutes to resuscitate her leading to permanent physical disabilities and brain damage. Continue reading
Everyone has a story about a time they fought with their health insurance company. Sometimes it is an issue over why a treatment was not covered or a fight about a copay or deductible. Many times, these battles, while incredibly frustrating, cost us little more than some money and time. In other cases, an insurance companies failure to approve or allow necessary medical treatment can cost a lot more. In a recent and tragic case in Los Angeles, it cost a 17-year-old girl her right leg, part of her pelvis and spine. It also cost her insurance company $28,000,000.
On March 26, 2015, The Los Angeles Times reported on the story of Anna Rahm. Anna was member of Kaiser Permanente, a health insurance HMO that uses a managed care approach to member health. Essentially, Kaiser members seek treatment by visiting Kaiser facilities and Kaiser doctors. In March, 2009 Anna visited her local Kaiser facility for severe lower back pain. Despite her healthy appearance (Anna was 5 feet, 4 inches and 125 pounds) doctors diagnosed her as overweight. She was referred to a nutritionist and acupuncture therapist. The pain persisted. Over the next three months, Anna and her mother repeatedly requested an MRI to help diagnose the source of the pain. Despite these requests, Kaiser doctors refused to order any MRI. Continue reading
While it can often be frustrating waiting for a medical malpractice lawsuit to take years to work its way through Chicago’s local courts, halfway around world, one country is only just beginning to recognize the need to provide legal protections and fair compensation to victims of horrible medical mistakes. On March 7, 2015, National Public Radio (NPR) explored the story of Dr. Kunal Saha and his fight to force his native country of India to establish legal protections that hold doctors accountable when they commit malpractice.
17 years ago, Dr. Saha, a researcher in HIV/AIDS at Ohio State University, and his wife, Anuradha, were visiting their family in Calcutta. While there, Anuradha developed a fever and rash requiring a hospitalization. In the course of her treatment, the local doctor, Sukumar Mukherjee, incorrectly administered the wrong dose of Depo Medrol, an anti-inflammatory steroid. Dr. Mukherjee inexplicable administered a dose of the steroid twice a day contrary to the recommended administration of once every two weeks. Dr. Mikherjee’s rational for this decision was that he had “seen the drug work like magic.” Instead, the astronomical dose of Depo Medrol destroyed Anuradha’s immune system quickly killing her.
At the time, India’s legal system made it virtually impossible to hold doctors accountable for their negligence. In fact, when Dr. Saha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Mukherjee and three other doctors who were involved in his wife’s treatment, he quickly lost. Undeterred, in 2001 Dr. Saha started an organization called People for Better Treatment. He then began a decade long battle against India’s entrenched medical and legal system to recognize and find a legal recourse for victims such as Anuradha. Continue reading
It is a time-honored tradition uttered on nearly every television courtroom drama; “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” And it is true. In our justice system, words spoken by a defendant can often come back to haunt them at trial. For many doctors accused of medical malpractice, this creates a catch-22 when a life-altering mistake is made. The doctor, who may be fully aware of their mistake is unable to apologize, unable to explain what happened, and most importantly, unable to take steps to work with other doctors and health care providers to ensure such mistakes are not repeated. This in turn drags out medical malpractice lawsuits, and significantly delays compensation for victims who are often now in dire need of financial assistance in order to face the new and complicated requirements of his or her changed life.
Victims of serious medical errors often face life-altering and costly situations. A patient who suffers a traumatic brain injury during surgery may need expensive around the clock care to simply assist with life’s daily activities. A medical mistake that leaves someone paralyzed may force the patient to move to a new, handicap accessible home and as well as face new realities that come with forever being confined to a wheelchair. These necessary burdens are not cheap and delays in compensation often serve to frustrate matters. This frustration only grows when patients and their families are left in the dark, unable to seek basic answers from their doctor as to how or why a life changing mistake was made.