Recently in Medical Malpractice Category

July 8, 2010

Laser Hair Removal that Left Woman Burned Leads to Lawsuit

A Florida woman has filed a lawsuit against an unlicensed practitioner who burned her during a laser hair removal treatment. The incident occurred last August in Miami when Monica Jimenez had the procedure done by Larry DeJesus, who Jimenez thought had a license to practice. DeJesus caused second and third degree burns to Jimenez's underarms, and the injuries landed her in the emergency room, according to reports.

Prior to filing a medical negligence lawsuit, Jimenez took her case to the Department of Health, who determined that DeJesus was an unlicensed practitioner. The Miami-Dade Police Department became involved after that and arrested DeJesus in June 2010. Jimenez still experiences pain from her injuries and is suing DeJesus for over $1 million.

Unfortunately, as the popularity of laser hair removal treatments increases, so do the amount of injuries resulting from this and other types of nonsurgical procedures such as spider vein removal. In 2004, a woman in Tampa, Florida, had her leg amputated after a spider vein injection treatment at Ideal Image. She received over $2 million in confidential settlements for her medical malpractice and products liability case, which involved three sets of defendants. More recently, a New York woman filed a $5 million medical malpractice lawsuit against a laser clinic that left scars on her torso which she claims cannot be removed.

For consumers who are interested in having laser hair removal or any other non-surgical procedure, the safest precaution is to seek a physician with experience in laser treatments or have the treatment performed by a trained and licensed professional under the supervision of a physician. The Florida Department of Health website offers information as to who is allowed to perform these types of treatments.

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October 19, 2009

Prescription for Death

Dead by Mistake a recent Hearst Corporation study, estimates that 200,000 Americans will die this year from hospital errors and infections. These preventable errors can affect anyone regardless of age, wealth, previous health history, social status, or level of education. And as personal injury attorneys who help relatives of those victims of wrongful death or malpractice, we have seen the disastrous effects of these mistakes.

Three-week-old Alyssa Shinn was born 14 weeks prematurely and was progressing well until her death following an accidental overdose of zinc (ABC News). At a hospital in Indiana, three babies died after receiving an overdose of heparin.

Michael Hurewitz, a healthy 57-year-old newspaper reporter, entered Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City to donate part of his liver to his brother. He died there from an infection contracted in the hospital after the surgery.

Even the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital is not immune from error. Trevor Nelson, a 34-year-old producer with the television news show 60 Minutes, was admitted with a headache and fever. He was diagnosed with viral meningitis, a condition that frequently resolves itself within about 10 days even without treatment. However, Nelson was administered frequent high doses of powerful narcotic drugs and died within 15 hours of his hospital admission.

How can you protect yourself if you are hospitalized? Be a partner in your care, not just a passive observer. Ask questions, and check your medications to be sure that you are receiving the correct drugs and dosages. Have employees check your name and compare it to the name on the chart or on their orders before giving you any treatment or taking you for any procedures. Check that hospital employees wash their hands or wear fresh disposable gloves when treating you. And if you are unable to take these measures for yourself, have a family member or friend act as your advocate.

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September 9, 2009

Hospital Performs Brain Surgery on Wrong Side Three Times

ABC News reported (November 27, 2007) that a Rhode Island hospital was fined $50,000 for committing three serious surgical errors in one year. In two cases, the neurosurgeons operated on the wrong side of the patients head. In the third case, a neurosurgeon drilled on the right side even though the patient's CAT scan showed bleeding on the left side of the brain, but fortunately the error was caught and the hole was closed so that the surgery could proceed on the correct side.

Here are some additional recent examples of wrong site surgery:

  • A Chicago area man had surgery performed on the wrong knee, resulting in serious injury to a healthy knee and unanticipated medical bills.
  • A man was permanently disabled because the surgeon fused the bone in the wrong ankle.
  • A 52-year-old Florida man had the wrong leg amputated and received compensation of $900,000 from the hospital and $250,000 from the surgeon.
  • The right kidney of an 84-year-old woman was mistakenly removed instead of her gall bladder.
  • A 17-year-old girl received the wrong heart and lungs in a transplant and eventually died.
According to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) Sentinel Event Statistics, between 1995 and June 30, 2009 there were 837 cases of wrong site surgery.

Minimize the Probability of Surgery on the Wrong Site

You can take steps to help prevent wrong site surgery:

  • Investigate your doctor's credentials to determine Board Certification(s) and how many of the same procedures he/she has performed.
  • Investigate the quality of the hospital and its ranking in various specialty areas at websites such as:
    • United States Department of Health and Human Services
    • HealthGrades
    • Consumer Reports
  • Tell the nurses and doctors your full name, why you are having the surgery, and your date of birth. While this may sound obvious, there is at least one known case of two people with the same names but different middle initials having surgery in the same hospital at the same time but for different reasons.
  • Be sure that the doctor initials the site of the surgery as recommended by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
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August 12, 2009

Graves' Disease Drug, Propylthiouracil, May Increase Risk of Liver Damage

Propylthiouracil (PTU) was recently cited in a safety warning released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  According to the warning, reports to the Adverse Event Reporting System show an increase risk of patients suffering hepatotoxicity with propylthiouracil when compared to another hyperthyroidism drug, methimazole.  There have been 32 cases of serious liver damage associated with propylthiouracil in both adults and children according to the FDA including 13 reported deaths and 11 liver transplants in patients taking PTU.

Propylthiouracil is an oral antithyroid drug used to treat Graves' disease by suppressing the creation of thyroid hormones.  Propylthiouracil is generally considered only as an alternative to methimazole if a patient is allergic to methimazole or is pregnant.  According to the FDA, doctors are instructed to carefully consider the risks of using or switching to propylthiouracil to treat patients with hyperthyroidism and closely monitor all patients taking the drug for liver damage.

Signs of Potential Liver Damage:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • abdominal pain
  • itching
  • easy bruising
  • loss of appetite

Patients taking propylthiouracil and experiencing any symptoms of potential liver damage should seek immediate medical advice. 

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May 8, 2009

Potential Medical Malpractice for Prescriping Drugs That Increase Suicidal Thoughts

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that antiepileptic (or anti-seizure) drugs such as Topamax, Lamictal, and Lyrica can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  Because these drugs are so widely used throughout the United States, the warnings pose an intriguing question as to who is responsible to warn and monitor the patients that take these potentially deadly medications and when a failure to either warn or monitor becomes medical malpractice.

Generally, when speaking of prescriptions drugs, the manufacturer's duty to warn of potential risks and side-effects is limited to adequately advising the prescribing doctor of any risk that may result from the patient's use of the drug.  This is because the prescribing doctor acts as a "learned intermediary" and considers both his understanding of the patient's condition and the potential risks of a drug when making a decision to either prescribe the drug or not.  However, the knowledge the doctor has available to him is not static and changes when new tests and studies become available as seen in the case of antiepileptic medications.  Failing to inform patients already prescribed a certain medication of newly discovered risks associated with that drug may result in medical malpractice.

Doctors have a duty to disclose the risks associated with medications or courses of treatment.  This duty can include explaining to the patient what is at stake when taking the medication, any alternatives, what goals the doctor is attempting to achieve, and the risk of the treatment and the risk of no treatment at all.  Florida law requires doctors to explain the serious risks and the possibility of serious harm taking the drug entails so that an intelligent choice can be made by the patient by balancing the possible risks and the possible benefits.  Therefore, when new risks are made known to the doctor by the manufacturer or other source, the argument can be made that it is medical malpractice not to inform the patient of the new risk so that they may make an informed and intelligent decision based on the new information.

Doctors also have a duty to monitor their patients during their course of treatment.  Obviously, a failure to monitor a patient prescribed a drug that increases suicidal thoughts and behaviors could be deemed malpractice.  It is important for the prescribing medical professional to closely monitor a patient taking antiepileptic medications to ensure the risks of suicidal behavior do not begin to outweigh the benefits of the drug.  Failure to properly monitor a patient could have devastating effects including death or serious injury.
  

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February 4, 2009

Florida Medical Malpractice Victims Face Huge Challenge Taking On The Medical Profession

A victim of medical malpractice in Florida has a difficult time going up against the medical profession. It amazes me how many doctors whom the defense hires will just say anything. It's just as amazing that so many juries believe these doctors, who make a huge living testifying almost exclusively for the medical profession. No matter how obvious or egregious the behavior, medical professionals being sued can easily find paid and frequent experts to say that there was no negligence on the part of the physicians or medical professionals who are being sued.

We have all heard the expression: "doctoring the records". Many people may not know where that expression comes from. Well, let me explain.

Where possible, because I always suspect that the 'doctoring' of records will occur, we attempt to obtain the records from the doctor without the doctor knowing that a lawyer is sending for the records. Once the doctor or hospital or nursing home finds out there is a potential that there will be a lawsuit brought, the process of 'doctoring' the records begins. In many cases, once the medical provider is on notice that a claim or lawsuit may be brought, the physician or medical providers begin the process of adding to, deleting, or changing the original records to cover themselves.

In some cases, the physician may not even be aware that a patient that the doctor sent home suffered a serious medical condition, or even died. What we do in our law firm, if that's the case, is we will surreptiously have one of our medical professional friends send for those records under the pretext that they are treating the victim, without the doctor whom we are trying to obtain the records from knowing that a serious injury or enough death has resulted to their patient. There have been many times where we receive one set of records through our medical professional friend, only later on to receive the 'doctored' set when our law firm sends for the records. 'Doctored' medical records make it easier for us to show the jury that the medical professional who 'doctored' the records is trying to hide something.

For example, in one our cases where our client suffered congestive heart failure after being dispensed diet pills by a pill-pushing doctor, we found out for the first time at the doctor's deposition that the records were doctored where one of the crucial pages he showed up with was completely different and rewritten from the original document. Interesting, lying through 'his teeth', the doctor disingenuosly explained that the record was re-written for health insurance purposes. Shortly after his deposition, this case settled.

In another of our cases where a woman suffered anaphalytic shock and almost died as a result of the failure to diagnose the reaction to the medications prescribed by that physician, again the records were changed and we hired a handwriting expert to substantiate the alteration of records. The case settled shortly before trial.

The alteration of medical records is commonplace. An attorney handling medical malpractice cases must suspect the 'doctoring" of the records from the outset. Not every case will yield the result, but being aware that it goes on is crucial to helping prove the victim or family's case.

Statistics show that persons suing doctors win less than 30% of the jury trials against the medical profession. The statistics are slightly better when one includes a hospital or medical institution, as juries find it more difficult to find for the victim in cases where the doctor is sued personally and no corporate entity is sued.fault. These statistics fluctuate wildly depending upon whether there is a tort reform movement going on at the time the case is heading to trial. Right before and shortly after Amendment 3 in Florida, one of many tort reform efforts in Florida over the last twenty years, was on the ballot in November 2004, the statistics of success for victims going to trial in medical malpractice cases plummetted to substantially less than 20%.

Because of these statistics, lawyers who handle medical malpractice cases in Florida generally take only the most catastrophic cases and results. The 2004 enactment of Amendment 7, which states that if a physician has three judgments against them for medical negligence, makes it even more difficult to win a case if the jurors on the case are aware of that law. For that reason, the lawyer must make certain before the case begins that the judge instructs the lawyers for the defense that shall not inform the jury of that law.

Medical malpractice cases not only take hundreds or even thousands of hours of the law firm's time, they may also require the outlay of hundreds of thousands of dollars of the law firm's money. As a result, a law firm handling medical negligence cases must know what they are doing in order to increase the odds of winning the case and to ensure that the law firm is successful in handling the medical malpractice cases the law firm chooses to accept.

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