Medical Malpractice and Hospital Errors

With the Vanderbilt bacterial meningitis scare, debates about banning smoking in Nashville’s parks, cancer studies linking Tennesseans’ cigarette smoking to our rising number of cancer deaths, nationwide recall after Medtronic defibrillator deaths, and a marathon run through Tennessee to raise awareness about Ataxia-telangiectasia–this is already a hefty health news week in Nashville. I want to piggyback on that health news by updating this Nashville law blog’s section on medical malpractice.

Medical malpractice, as it’s commonly known, is when a doctor or other medical professional injures a patient, such as the Long Island woman who had a double mastectomy after a lab misdiagnosed her with a breast cancer she never had. What isn’t so commonly known is that doctors and other health professionals are liable for injuries caused by those decisions they did not make as well as for decisions they waited too long to make. Figures vary, but some respectable studies attribute over 150,000 deaths a year to avoidable hospital errors. About half of these are patients who die as a result of hospital-acquired infections. Infections can lead to permanent disability if not death. Medical science has provided us a wealth of antibiotics and sterilization processes, which work great, if no one forgets or makes a mistake.

In addition to infections, another common injury seen in court but many medically injured patients overlook while suffering from its effects, is failed diagnosis. Though the attending doctor did not physically harm you, if he or she may have failed to diagnose a life-threatening disease or ailment that soon after causes you serious injury (such as an undiagnosed heart attack), then that doctor is responsible for malpractice damages. The same goes for being transferred without your assent, especially if transportation time furthered an injury or caused a new one in the process of getting you from Point A to B.

There are, of course, many other instances of medical malpractice ourattorneys see and try. As a fellow white-collar professional, what’s perhaps the hardest to understand about the whole thing is how few doctors admit their mistakes. Tennessee Rules of Evidence exclude “expressions of sympathy” from the courtroom. In other words, a doctor’s telling a patient or survivors that he or she is sorry and made a mistake is not admissible in court.The doctor’s words of apology cannot be used against him or her in a court of law. Over 30 states other than Tennessee have passed these”apology laws,” but few doctors will admit to error, often because of their medical malpractice carrier’s pressure to reduce lawsuits, that is, payment for permanent or life-threatening or unnecessary injuries the insured doctor has caused.

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