Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

juryOur jury system is in trouble, big trouble, and that’s no small matter.  It’s a Constitutional matter.  The right to a civil jury trial is enshrined in our Constitution’s Seventh Amendment as part of the Bill of Rights.

But that right is under siege, as explained in a recent series of New York Times articles. Who is assaulting this important right? Corporate America.  Corporations are tucking away arbitration clauses into the contracts their customers and employees are routinely required to sign. These arbitration clauses state something like this: “The company may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration”. With these simple words, corporations are depriving millions of Americans to their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.

Examples abound.  Do you have a credit card, a cell phone, or internet service? Then you have given up your right to a jury trial in any dispute with those companies.  In the fine print of your service contract lies a hidden a requirement that you “arbitrate” any disputes at a forum pre-selected by the corporation. The same is true in many employment contracts you might sign. Think your boss has discriminated against you? No jury.  No Court.  Arbitration.

lavernLavern Wilkinson was a thirty something year-old single mom with mild chest pain. Being of a cautious nature, she thought to get the chest pain looked into. This eventually brought her to Kings County Hospital in New York City for chest x-ray. The results, she was told, were just perfect. Go home. Nothing to worry about.

Two years later, with more significant symptoms, and with the aid of another x-ray, she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. It had spread to other organs. She was terminal. Her doctors then looked back at that old x-ray and saw a nodule in its early stage. It was plainly visible. At that stage, it could have been easily removed surgically. She could have been cured.

Now, though, it was too late. But it was not too late – she hoped – for a lawsuit. After all, she was a poor single mother with an autistic 15 year-old daughter who was about to become motherless. Her daughter would need the compensation Lavern was entitled to. Her case, she figured, was a slam dunk.

doctor bad.jpgYet another study, reported yesterday in the New York Times, indicates that so called “defensive medicine” — ordering extra tests and performing extra procedures in an attempt to avoid getting sued for malpractice — doesn’t reduce the number of lawsuits. What does drastically reduce medical malpractice claims (besides being a careful and good doctor) is being a GOOD COMMUNICATOR with the patient. That’s because patients rarely sue doctors they like, who treat them with kindness, and who listen to them. Doctors who are liked – because they connect well with the patient — can make mistakes that will often be forgiven. But the same patient wouldn’t think twice about slapping a lawsuit on a cold, distant, non-listening doctor.

I have not seen any similar studies for the legal profession, but it would make perfect sense that lawyers who communicate well with their clients are less likely to get sued. So, fellow lawyers, treat your clients right, listen to them, take the time to explain things to them, joke with them – in sum, win their love! That’s the best malpractice insurance you can buy – and it’s free!

Keep safe!

doctor bad.jpgCame across a great article in the Observer. Here’s my rambling summary:

The insurance industry has convinced more than half the states to pass medical malpractice “tort reform” legislation. Their tactics? Cash-in-fist lobbying plus promises that restricting medical malpractice suits would cause doctors’ insurance premiums to plummet. This would in turn lower health care costs and improve healthcare.

The only problem is it turns out the insurance lobby sold us a bill of goods. Every study ever done since tort reform (I have read most) was enacted has shown little or no gains in the area of insurance premium reduction or medical care cost reduction.

jail.jpgYes, even convicted criminals have rights. Including the right to bring a New York personal injury or medical malpractice claim. An inmate has a right to competent medical care while under the custody of the prison authorities. If the prison medical team screws up, and causes him harm, he can sue for compensation. At Michaels & Smolak we get letters from inmates at the Auburn State maximum security prison (just around the corner from our main office!) all the time. We reject 99% of those cases either because there was no real malpractice, or because the injuries are too minor to bother with a lawsuit against the State. But every once in a while an inmate has a legitimate claim for real serious injuries.

Case in point: In Black v. State of New York, a prison doctor, after examining an inmate complaining of cervical neck pain, and after reviewing an MRI, correctly concluded he was suffering from “spinal stenosis“, a condition in which the narrowing of the spinal canal exerts pressure on the spinal cord, and myelomalacia, a softening of the spinal cord. The physician correctly noted the condition was serious and even dangerous, and justified an expert consultation, but did not realize that it required immediate emergency surgery to prevent paralysis. While awaiting approval for a neurological consultation, the inmate re-injured his cervical spine when he fell in his prison cell. The inmate ended up paralyzed from the chest down. Timely surgery would have prevented this from happening.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department (Rochester, NY appellate court) recently upheld the Court of Claims’ $15 Million medical malpractice verdict on behalf of the estate of the now deceased inmate.

doctor bad.jpgIf you wanted to hire a driver to drive you on a long trip, would you want access to an easily searchable website where his and other licensed professional drivers’ traffic convictions and accidents were posted?

If your answer is yes, then safety is important to you. And I assume that, if you were going to have major surgery, you would also like an easily searchable website that gives you details about your surgeon’s medical malpractice records, hospital affiliations, and other background information.

Right now, New York State has such a website. It was mandated by a year 2000 Statute, which was passed in response to several high profile medical malpractice failures by doctors with bad – but not easily discoverable – track records.

joan rivers.jpgJoan Rivers went in to the clinic for a routine throat examination and came out dead. She died after she was anesthetized and her renowned medical team took souvenir “selfies” of themselves posing with her. Meanwhile, the doctors did not notice her vital signs trailing off. Fifteen minutes went by. Joan Rivers then went into the cardiac arrest, which deprived her brain of oxygen, which in turn led to her death eight days later.

Investigators have found numerous violations and irregularities during Ms. Rivers’ treatment.

Rivers’ daughter has announced she will file a New York medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against the clinic and the doctors. The allegations will likely include a failure to properly monitor her Propofol – the sedative administered intravenously during the procedure. This is the same drug that Michael Jackson overdosed on.

Thumbnail image for ebola.jpgI blogged yesterday about who can, and can’t, sue a Hospital for Ebola malpractice in New York. By “Ebola malpractice” I mean a hospital’s failure to timely diagnose and treat the disease, and to take precautions to avoid its spreading.

I determined that in New York the patient and the sickened family of the patient probably could successfully sue.

But in Texas – where an Ebola malpractice lawsuit should be brought — Ebola malpractice suits will almost certainly fail. That’s because Texas is a “tort reform” State. Back in 2003 the Lone Star State passed a Republican-led tort deform reform law that just about annihilated medical malpractice claims. Among other things, the law requires emergency room patients to prove not just negligence but “willful and wanton” negligence on the part of the hospital staff. That standard is tough to prove, but even if you can prove it, you face another tort-reform barrier: Damages caps. In Texas, your pain and suffering damages are “capped” at $250,000 for the hospital and $250,000 for the doctor.

ebola.jpgLet’s say you just got back from a holiday in Liberia, where, unbeknownst to you, you caught Ebola. You turn yourself into your local hospital with stomach pain and a fever. You even mention that you just got back from Liberia. Let’s say the hospital ER folks – unsuspecting of Ebola — prescribe painkillers and antibiotics and send you on your way. Let’s say you end up dying a horrendous death, and that, if the Ebola had been properly and timely treated, you probably would have survived. Let’s also say that you contaminated your entire family, and some friends and associates, who either died or survived the harrowing illness. Oh, and let’s also say the hospital failed to provide the nurses who treated you with proper Ebola protective outfits, and they got Ebola, too.

Who can sue the hospital? The answers might surprise you.

THE NURSES: In New York, the nurses can’t sue because they are barred by workers’ compensation law from suing their employer. All they get is workers’ compensation benefits. That’s 60% of lost wages. In the case of death, their family gets a measly $50,000 in workers’ compensation benefits. No compensation for pain, suffering, grief.

doctor bad.jpgSexting during surgery? Ya godda be kidding . . .!

I blogged a few weeks ago about doctors who got into trouble for texting or surfing the web while attending to patients, even during surgery. That was incredible enough, but now a Seattle surgeon has been caught, and suspended, for SEXTING during surgery. The anesthesiologist sent 64 sex-texts during seven surgeries, mostly C-sextions – oops, I meant “sections”.

You might ask yourself, so, what’s the difference between SEXTING and TEXTING? Isn’t the distraction the same? Well, no, in my humble opinion, it’s not. Sexting is even more distracting (not that I would know from personal experience of course) because it involves both brains (guys, you know what I mean). Sexual arousal simply has to count as an additional distraction, above and beyond the mere mental distraction of texting, at least in my book.

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