The National Institute of Health defines a medical error as a “preventable adverse effect of medical care, whether or not it is evident or harmful to the patient.” On average, medical errors account for up to 440,000 deaths every year. When you suffer from medical errors, or you lose a loved one because of a medical error, you have the right to sue for medical malpractice.
Despite their education and skill, doctors are still human, and they make mistakes. You can also sue for medical malpractice if a doctor or medical facility deliberately performs a procedure, including surgery, that you do not need. Both situations lead to additional pain and suffering on behalf of the patient.
Failure to Diagnose
If a doctor fails to provide you with a proper diagnosis, makes an incorrect diagnosis, or makes a delayed diagnosis, including failing to order the correct tests or tests at all, it could hurt you. At the very least, it could cause you additional pain and suffering, and at the worst, it could cause your death. Failure to diagnose is just one of the many medical errors that could lead to additional pain and suffering.
Wrong Site Surgery or Amputation
Before doctors started marking surgery sites, they would sometimes amputate the wrong limb or do surgery at the wrong site. In the case of surgery, the doctor may have misread the chart or mixed charts up. Even with protocols in place, accidents can still happen if the x-ray tech mislabels films or other pre-surgery errors occur. Before surgery, your doctor should discuss the surgery site with you or a loved one, especially for amputation. If you have no idea what the doctor is talking about or if the doctor is talking about the amputation of the wrong limb, you need to speak up, as the doctor might be relying on incorrect records.
Leaving Sponges and Other Medical Equipment in a Surgery Site
An Annals of Surgery study found that doctors left sponges and tools in 12.5 percent of surgeries. When a surgeon leaves a sponge or a tool inside your body, it will try to attack the foreign matter to “kill” it. This causes high fevers and other problems. In most cases, the doctors must operate a second time to correct the mistake. Depending on your condition before and after the first surgery, this could cause additional pain and suffering or even death.
While doctors and nurses have to perform an instrument and sponge count, they don’t always do it the same way, and in many cases, it may be performed differently even during the same surgery, which causes mistakes. Doctors should have a specific way to count sponges and instruments before closing the surgery site.
Many people are surprised that fatal allergic reactions would ever occur in a hospital. After all, medical facilities ask patients if they have allergies when they first arrive. Unfortunately, fatalities still occur when a doctor or nurse gives a patient a medication listed on the allergy list on the patient’s chart.
In some cases, a patient may receive an allergen that wasn’t listed on his or her chart. If the patient does not know about the allergy, he or she cannot tell anyone. In these cases, the only way doctors and nurses find out is when the patient suffers an allergic reaction to the medication. To ensure safety, medical staff should monitor patients when giving a new medication via an IV and remain prepared to counteract the effects when a patient first shows signs of distress.
Lifting accidents are common in hospitals and nursing homes. These accidents not only injure patients but hospital staff as well. Hospitals and nursing homes should provide training for their staff on proper lifting, and should provide equipment, such as stand-assist lifts, full-body slings, friction-reducing devices, and lateral transfer devices, to help lift and/or move patients that are too heavy for nurses. Even someone who is not overweight may be too heavy or awkward for a nurse who has a small frame, especially if the patient is much taller than the nurse.
The type and amount of damages that a medical malpractice plaintiff may receive depend on the extent of the injuries and whether the doctor was negligent—that is, he or she made a mistake—or was grossly negligent. Gross negligence includes several factors, including, but not limited to, performing an unnecessary surgery or procedure.
Successful plaintiffs may recover:
- Economic damages include those that have a direct cost, such as past and future medical expenses related to the error, past and future lost wages, ambulatory or other medical equipment, and funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses.
- Non-economic damages are those that you cannot put a price on and might include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, inconvenience, amputation, paralysis, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of a bodily function, and/or loss of use of a body part. Courts order economic damages and non-economic damages in an attempt to make victims whole again. While the money does not erase their injuries or pain and suffering, nor does it bring back a loved one, it does go a long way in ensuring that victims are less financially stressed.
- Punitive damages are allowed but limited in Washington. State law doesn’t explicitly provide for punitive damages, though there are some exceptions. However, Washington updated its jury instructions regarding punitive damages, stating that while the statutes do not provide for punitive damages, the court can award punitive damages as a way to punish a defendant’s grossly negligent or intentional behavior.
If you suffered injuries or the loss of a loved one because of a medical error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today for a free consultation. Your attorney will listen to the details of your situation and help determine your eligibility to file a claim.