How Do You Know If It Is Medical Malpractice?

by Eric P. Czelusta, BCS, Esq. and Christa Carpenter, RN, Esq.

You, a family member, or a close friend is hospitalized.  Something unexpected happens during the hospitalization and the patient leaves with more injuries than he or she had when entering the hospital, or even worse, he or she dies.  You are left with the question of how or why did this happen?  The hospital or doctor gives you an explanation.  You are told by the doctor or hospital that this is a known complication or that there was no way to prevent this while they don’t tell you that someone made a negligent mistake that caused the bad outcome.  This is an all too familiar scenario that we at The Patient’s Law Firm frequently hear from our clients.

There are many scenarios that we have seen where healthcare providers have rendered medical care that is considered by their profession to have been below the standard of care that is required of your healthcare providers.  Some common scenarios are these:

Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis:  The Patient’s Law Firm has represented many people and families in these types of cases.  We have seen missed diagnoses including cancers that were never diagnosed or reported to the patient; spinal cord injuries leading to a life of pain or paralysis; and emergent situations during a pregnancy that were missed and led to a child being born with a devastating, life-altering condition such as cerebral palsy.  Missed or delayed diagnoses account for a large percentage of medical malpractice complaints. When a doctor misdiagnoses a condition (or fails to diagnose a serious disease for some time), the patient might miss treatment opportunities that could have prevented serious harm or even death.

Birth Related Injuries:  A number of fetal injuries can be caused by medical malpractice, including brain injuries (such as cerebral palsy and seizure disorders), fractured bones, and Erb’s palsy and shoulder dystocia (damage to nerves that control the arms and hands). Hospital or physician negligence can happen during childbirth or long before.   If the negligent medical treatment is provided during the pregnancy, it could harm the fetus or the mother. Some examples of negligent prenatal care include the physician’s:

  • failure to diagnose a medical condition of the mother, such as preeclampsia, Rh incompatibility, hypoglycemia, anemia, or gestational diabetes
  • failure to identify ectopic pregnancies, or
  • failure to diagnose a disease that could be contagious to the mother’s fetus (such as genital herpes or neonatal lupus).

Nursing or physician negligence during childbirth could cause injury to the baby and harm to the mother. Common medical errors during childbirth include:

  • failure to anticipate birth complications due to the baby’s large size
  • failing to identify or treat maternal hemorrhage
  • failure to respond to signs of fetal distress that are identifiable by fetal heart rate monitoring or lack of fetal movement
  • failure to order a cesarean section when one would have prevented harm, or
  • incompetent use of forceps or a vacuum extractor.

Medication Errors:  According to this 2006 study,  medication errors harm approximately 1.5 million people in the United States every year. While this report occurred back in 2006, we at The Patients Law Firm continue to see people who suffer from these types of inexcusable errors to this day.  Medication errors can occur many ways from the initial prescription to the administration of the drug. For example, a patient might be harmed if the doctor prescribes the wrong medication, a nurse may give the wrong medication or dosage, or a pharmacist may give the wrong drug or dosages to a customer who is filling a prescription.  Some examples include the mismanagement of blood thinners leading to internal bleeding or stroke, giving medications to a patient with a known allergy to that drug, or failing to prescribe a needed medication.  The lawyers at The Patient’s Law Firm are both knowledgeable and experienced in representing people who have been the victim of this type of preventable negligence.

Anesthesia Errors:  Anesthesia mistakes are oftentimes life changing or even deadly.  Anesthesia errors sometimes seen include:

  • Giving too much anesthesia to the patient;
  • Failing to monitor the patient’s vital signs during surgery;
  • improperly intubating patients (putting a tube in the trachea to assist with breathing) leading to injuries such as aspiration leading to brain injury or death.

Surgical Errors:  Some medical malpractice claims arise from mistakes made in the operating room. A surgeon might be negligent during the operation itself including puncturing internal organs, operating on the wrong body part, not timely recognizing intraoperative bleeds, leaving surgical instruments and sponges in the body, and other complications.  Likewise, hospitals and their nursing staffs have been known to be negligent in administering post-op care or recognizing and reporting signs of post-operative infections, sepsis, or bleeding.

Radiology Errors:  This usually involves failing to recognize abnormalities on imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.  For example, the lawyers at The Patient’s Law Firm have seen cases where findings indicative of breast cancer are missed on a mammogram or ultrasound, missed findings suggestive of other types of cancer on CT or MRI, or missed spinal fractures.  These missed findings on imaging studies often times result in a failure to timely treat life changing and life ending conditions.

Spinal Surgery:  We have seen cases where spinal surgeons in the fields of orthopedics and neurosurgery have been too aggressive in recommending and performing unnecessary spinal surgery, removing too much supporting bone and causing life-long spinal instability, or recommending surgeries that are too invasive for the situation such as fusions where only a minimally invasive decompression is indicated.  When complications from an unnecessary spinal surgery such as infection or nerve damage occur, or someone’s back is destabilized due to an unnecessary surgery or too aggressive surgical approach, the patient is left to pay for the surgeon’s error with a lifetime of pain and, in extreme cases, paralysis.  This type of error in judgment by the surgeon is oftentimes medical malpractice. 

Patient Falls:  Nursing errors are common in hospitals and nursing homes.  Often, these errors lead to patients falling and suffering injuries such as head injuries and hip fractures. Patient falls are preventable and hospitals have a duty to assess and identify patients who are at risk for falling and taking the measures necessary to prevent these events.  Oftentimes, they fail in these duties and the patient suffers serious injury. Patients at risk for falling include postoperative patients, patients who suffer from weakness or dementia, or patients on medications that cause them to be disoriented or off balance. 

Bedsores:  Like falls, bedsores are very common in nursing homes and hospitals and they are usually preventable with proper nursing care and attention to the patient.  This can be a very serious and sometimes fatal injury, and they can lead to serious, life-threatening infections. Bed sores can last for years and they can also leave people more vulnerable to developing pressure injuries again even after the original pressure injury has healed.  Patients at risk include those who are bed or chair bound, those who suffer from incontinence, and patients who become malnourished during their stay in the hospital or nursing home.  Patients should be screened for this risk and if found to be at risk, placed on a pressure relieving mattress and turned and repositioned every couple of hours along with other preventative measures.  Unfortunately, this potentially devasting injury is common.  In the past, the US Department of Health and Human Services has published these statistics regarding pressure sores:

  • Number of People Affected: 2.5 million patients per year.
  • Cost: Pressure ulcers cost $9.1-$11.6 billion per year in the US. Cost of individual patient care ranges from $20,900 to 151,700 per pressure ulcer. An average added $43,180 in costs to a hospital stay.
  • Pain: Pressure ulcers may be associated with severe pain.
  • Death: About 60,000 patients die as a direct result of a pressure ulcer each year. This translates to 6.85 deaths every hour of every single day.

These are just a few scenarios that the lawyers at The Patient’s Law Firm have seen over the years that could suggest that medical malpractice or nursing home negligence has occurred.  If you have any question about whether you or someone close to you has been injured by medical malpractice or nursing home negligence, please give The Patient’s Law Firm, PA, a call at 727-281-4357. Attorneys Eric P. Czelusta, BCS, Esq., and Christa M. Carpenter, RN, Esq., will be happy to evaluate your case free of charge.