Firm-Wide blog

When Surgery Leaves Patients Worse Off, Malpractice Suits Ensue

By Burg Simpson
September 3, 2015
3 min read

While the legal ins and outs of malpractice can involve complicated medical and legal issues, the bottom line is easy to understand. When doctors and other medical professionals unnecessarily harm instead of help patients, these patients deserve to be compensated. Similarly, when a doctor’s carelessness causes death, family members should not suffer financially in addition to the emotional toll such an experience inevitably takes.

Botched surgery instead of ibuprofen and a warm compress?

A recent case involving a patient who arrived at his doctor’s office with a swollen lymph node provides a textbook example of medical malpractice in action. The victim, in this case, lived on a farm and regularly took in stray animals, an environment in which it is not difficult to contract a common bacterial infection called “cat scratch disease.”  When the patient presented with a scratch to his neck and swollen lymph nodes, the doctor failed to perform a simple test to detect the infection. He negligently performed unnecessary surgery to remove the node, resulting in severe injury. In fact, this patient should probably have been treated with ibuprofen and warm compresses to the swollen lymph node, not surgery.

Millions in damages

Unfortunately for the patient, the doctor damaged a spinal nerve in the bungled surgery, which resulted in permanent disfigurement of the left shoulder, inability to extend the left arm or raise it above the head, and nerve palsy. This medical malpractice victim had spent most of his adult life working as a laborer, a position in which he could no longer continue with his post-surgery injuries. In light of the victim’s condition, a jury awarded him $4.2 million in damages.

Misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose

As this case illustrates, some of the major causes of malpractice are misdiagnoses or failures to diagnose a serious condition, or failure to conduct a simple test that may have prevented surgery altogether. Doctors who do not listen to their patients and who fail to perform appropriate tests in response to symptoms, often do not detect serious problems before it is too late, or they may convince themselves that the wrong treatment should be administered. Hospitals can err when nursing staff does not properly execute the chain of command if they believe a doctor has made a mistake. These mistakes can leave victims with lifelong disabilities. Patients and their families need to actively advocate for themselves if they believe a health care provider has caused injuries.

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