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A Treatment Tragedy: When Medical Negligence Leads to Wrongful Death

When medical negligence leads to the death of a loved one, it can be a shocking event. After all, doctors, nurses, technicians and caregivers are the people we trust to protect those we love. When a caregiver betrays this trust, our faith gives way to a deep and overwhelming sense of anger and loss. Pursuing some measure of justice through the courts can feel like an overwhelming task, but legal action is necessary if you want to be compensated for your loss. No settlement can replace your loved one, of course, but a wrongful death lawsuit could provide you with some financial security in the wake of this tragedy. Step one is understanding how these issues can arise in a modern hospital.

The U.S healthcare system is often vaunted for its technological sophistication. Most people assume our technological prowess leads to better outcomes, longer life spans and fewer mistakes. In fact, a recent peer-reviewed article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveals the sad fact that the U.S. lags far behind other modern countries in the quality of our healthcare. Among the authors' most eye-opening findings are that American physicians cause 250,000 deaths a year and that the U.S. ranks behind 12 other countries such as Australia, Spain and Belgium in its rate of neonatal mortality. Clearly something is going wrong. The question is why?

Medical negligence can manifest in a great number of ways. Doctors and nurses nowadays are often overburdened with understaffed emergency rooms and overlong hours — ripe conditions for a deadly mistake. One of the most common is misdiagnosis, or failure to diagnose. Misdiagnosis cases occur when a doctor misreads a patient's symptoms or overlooks an essential facet of his or her condition. Misdiagnosis can turn fatal if the underlying disease is serious enough, such as with heart disease or cancer. The failure to diagnose is a closely related error in which a doctor misses a life-threatening condition. Breast cancer, lung cancer, myocardial infarct (heart attack) and appendicitis are all common missed diagnoses that can lead to a wrongful death suit.

A second major source of medical negligence is surgical error. According to JAMA, 12,000 patients are subjected to unnecessary surgery every year. Surgical errors may involve forgotten equipment inside the body, malfunctioning or poorly monitored equipment during surgery, or unnecessary surgery performed because of an administrative error. Because surgery is by definition invasive and dangerous, errors that occur in the O.R. tend to carry lifelong consequences. Experimental surgeries can give rise to wrongful death suits as well, especially if they are performed without due notice or explanation to the patient.

Closely related to surgical error is the question of anesthesia error. Nowadays a great number of powerful compounds are used to help minimize pain and induce an unconscious state, and any mistake made with anesthesia can quickly result in catastrophic injury and death. Wrongful death can occur when a patient's oxygen supply or other vital lines are disrupted or cut during surgery, for instance. Death may also occur if anesthesia is given in too large a dose, or in a form that interacts with other medications in the patient's body. JAMA states that 7,000 medication errors are made every year in this nation, and anesthesia accounts for a significant percentage. The bottom line is that any patient who is not being closely monitored under anesthesia is at risk, which is why it is so important to establish inattention if an anesthesia error ever leads to trial.

Medical negligence is sadly not limited to adults either. Birth injuries that prove fatal are some of the most serious and common in personal injury law. Wrongful death birth injuries typically arise because a poor decision is made or a detail is missed in the chaos of delivery. Some common causes include inattention to the baby heart monitor, tangled umbilical cord, hypoxia leading to brain death and anesthesia or surgical errors in the act of giving birth. Even a doctor with good intentions can make a grievous error in delivery, so it is important to pursue your claim if you want to be compensated appropriately for this loss.

One final area where medical negligence can lead to wrongful death is nursing home abuse. Just as the name implies, cases such as these take place in nursing homes and arise because of inattention, inadequate care or abuse. Residents who are infirm or unable to speak may have trouble articulating their ailments, so the staff at such facilities must be unusually vigilant in their care and examinations. When an elderly resident dies because of dehydration, medication errors, infected bedsores or abuse that is allowed to continue unchecked, the sense of betrayal can be immense. You could stand to earn a significant sum by mounting a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home and its staff.

Medical negligence that leads to wrongful death is best understood in the context of each individual care center. No matter what the cause and how many factors were involved, the outcome is inevitably heartbreaking. If you retain an experienced wrongful death attorney, however, you should be able to pursue a fair and appropriate settlement for your loss.