case shows there is no room for errors or assumptions in the or ii

Last time, our blog discussed the false sense of security that often accompanies the news that a patient has to undergo an operation considered relatively minor by the medical community.

Specifically, we explored how just because a procedure is considered minor or a physician has performed it innumerable times, it is still no guarantee that a grievous medical mistake directly attributable to overconfidence or negligence will not occur.

To illustrate this phenomenon, we examined a recent medical malpractice case out of Alabama, where a married couple was awarded $6.7 million over a botched surgical procedure to repair an abdominal hernia.

According to the lawsuit, a then-57-year-old man — we called him Tom — entered the hospital on January 17, 2002, to undergo what was then his third hernia operation. During the course of the operation, the surgeon performing the operation noted that he had accidentally pierced the outer layer of Tom’s small intestine, but he simply assumed the puncture was not deep enough to cause a leak or any other complications.

This was not the case, however, as Tom began experiencing severe abdominal pain after the operation. In fact, by January 19, just two days after the surgery, Tom’s organs began to shut down and he was placed on a ventilator.

The lawsuit claimed that it wasn’t until January 21 that the surgeon who performed Tom’s surgery took any sort of definitive action to rectify the dangers presented by the otherwise obvious abdominal infection.

Specifically, the surgeon took the suggestion of a visiting professor of medicine and performed a needle aspiration, which involved taking fluid from Tom’s abdomen to determine if his small intestine was leaking.

The needle aspiration confirmed that this was indeed the case and a second surgery was performed to repair the puncture of the small intestine. While the surgical procedure fixed the issue, the damage was already done as the intestinal infection had spread considerably.

The complaint stated that the infection proved to be so virulent that Tom had to undergo three more surgeries and spend over six months in the hospital intensive care unit. In fact, thanks to his being bedridden for so long, he developed debilitating bedsores and had to undergo two-and-a-half years of physical therapy.

During the course of the medical malpractice trial, Tom’s attorney presented evidence demonstrating how the surgical error and resulting infection not only forced Tom to sacrifice his career as a millworker, but also resulted in a loss of mobility that deprived him of his ability to enjoy his hobbies like gardening and metal fabrication. Furthermore, evidence was presented showing that Tom’s wife was also forced to quit her job in order to provide care for her husband.

Fortunately, the jury in this case was able to understand and appreciate just how serious Tom’s injuries actually were and the extent of the medical malpractice committed by surgical staff. While the $6.7 million award — $5.2 million for Tom and $1.5 million for his wife — will never return things to the way they were before the surgery, it will nevertheless go a long way toward making life more comfortable for the married couple.

Remember to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional here in Pennsylvania if a serious surgical error during what should have been a routine procedure has resulted in a life-altering condition or the loss of a loved one. This simple step may give you the peace of mind that you deserve.

Source: The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, “Jury awards Alabama couple $6.7 million in malpractice suit,” Tim Chitwood, Nov. 13, 2013 

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