Recently in Wrongful Death Category

Medical Malpractice Verdict of $1Million After Women Dies From Dye Reaction

August 22, 2012

A cardiac catheterization is a common procedure used every day for diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease. Part of the procedure typically involves injecting dye to make the vessels easier to visualize on x-ray. Unfortunately, some patients can have an allergic reaction to dye. In some cases, the allergic reaction can be fatal. A medical malpractice trial recently conducted in Baltimore involved this very issue. There, a jury found doctors responsible for the death of a woman who suffered a fatal reaction to dye used during a cardiac catheterization procedure when the woman had demonstrated she was at increased risk of being allergic to dye.

According to the medical malpractice lawsuit, Sherry Pittman was 52 years old when she saw doctors at MidAtlantic complaining of chest pain. After testing, doctors found Pittman had a normal heart size and normal heart function with mild hardening of tissue and no significant narrowing of vessels. According to the family's medical malpractice lawyer, there was no evidence Ms. Pittman had coronary artery disease but doctors went ahead and still ordered a cardiac catheterization procedure. In addition, MidAtlantic physicians had been told by Pittman she had a previous severe reaction to a bee sting five years earlier which seemingly put the physicians on notice she may have a severe allergic to dyeing agents. According to the lawsuit, the severe bee sting reaction required doctors to determine the extent of her tolerance to dyeing agents before conducting the procedure with a full dosage of dye.

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Gov't Aims To Reduce Hospital-Acquired Infections By 40%

February 6, 2012

Hospital-acquired infections are a serious problem in this country. Usually preventable, these infections routinely lead to unnecessary harm to patients, avoidable healthcare costs and needless medical malpractice lawsuits. Currently, 1 in 20 patients will develop a hospital-acquired infection while hospitalized in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention, hospital-acquired infections cause and/or contribute to 99,000 deaths a year. These infections cost the healthcare system billions of dollars a year. Medical experts have concluded that most hospital-acquired infections are preventable. Recently, the federal government, through the Department of Health And Human Services, has launched a bold initiative, seeking to reduce hospital-infections by 40% over the next two years.

A hospital-acquired infection is an infection that a patient develops in a hospital usually from poor hygiene or sanitization practices by hospital staff. These infections can come from a variety of sources. Central lines, urinary catheters, bedsores, blood stream, and surgical sites are just a few examples from which hospital-acquired infections can develop. These infections can lead to serious medical complications and, on occasion, wrongful death.


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Anesthesia Complications At Surgical Centers Can Be Fatal

January 4, 2012

Patients are increasingly turning to Ambulatory Surgical Centers (or ASCs) for surgical procedures performed outside of the traditional hospital setting. There are several benefits to ASCs. They are generally less expensive than hospital surgery's, permit patients to go home the same day of surgery, and are often more luxurious than hospital. Today, 65% of all surgeries are now outpatient making ASCs a popular alternative to hospital surgeries. However, ASCs do have some drawbacks. One significant shortcoming to ASC is their ability to manage serious anesthesia errors and complications which are generally more dangerous outside of a hospital.

With virtually all same-day surgery procedures, the most significant risk is from the anesthesia. Although there are many forms of anesthesia, general anesthesia poses the greatest risk of serious injury or wrongful death. Indeed, most medical malpractice lawsuits stemming from anesthesia error involve general anesthesia. Common general anesthesia complications are from aspiration, changes in vital signs, and adverse reactions to anesthetic.

Regarding adverse anesthetic reactions, the most significant and potentially fatal condition that can develop is called malignant hyperthermia (or MH). This occurs when a patient's body temperature rapidly increases and causes muscle rigidity. With proper management, many patients will experience a full recovery. Without proper management, patients can and do die from MH.

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Medical Malpractice Suit Filed When Teen Died After Simple Tooth Extraction

December 20, 2011

On March 28, 2011, seventeen-year old Jennifer Olenick went in for a routine wisdom tooth extraction. During the procedure while under anesthesia, she began experiencing bradycardia in which her heart rate began to slow. Jennifer's oral surgeon and anesthesiologist allegedly failed to correct the problem and her condition worsened. Jennifer then went into cardiac arrest and later died from complications related to an apparent anesthesia error. Jennifer's family has now filed a civil medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against the anesthesiologist and oral surgeon involved in the wisdom tooth extraction.

The medical malpractice suite alleges doctors failed to properly monitor the teen while under anesthesia and failed to properly resuscitate her after her heart rate dropped to 40 beats per minute. The lawsuit further alleges that as a result of the doctors' medical negligence, Jennifer suffered irreversible brain damage. The irreversible brain damage ultimately led to Jennifer's death ten days later. According to the Chief Medical Examiner, the central cause of Jennifer's death was hypoxia (or oxygen deprivation) that occurred while under anesthesia.

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Another State Supreme Court Decides Caps On Damages

November 21, 2011

Over ten years ago, the Florida legislature passed a statute capping or limiting non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases to $500,000. Wrongful death cases are capped at $1 million. The Florida Supreme Court, like many other state supreme courts before it, is asked to decide whether its cap on damages is constitutional under its state constitution.

In personal injury and medical malpractice cases, a plaintiff may recover both economic damages and non-economic damages. When someone suffers a serious personal injury, they must usually undergo extensive medical treatment and miss considerable time from work. Economic damages are used to recover these financial losses. However, the most significant damages in a serious injury case are often non-economic damages such as when someone suffers a spinal cord injury, a brain injury, or birth injury. In those instances, a plaintiff may seek compensation for pain and suffering and disability or loss of a normal life. In wrongful death cases, a surviving spouse or child is entitled to compensation for the loss of companionship, support, and affection they lost because their parent and/or spouse is gone.

The cornerstone of the tort reform movement is to cap non-economic damages in personal injury, medical negligence, and wrongful death cases. There are various justifications given by tort reformers for caps. The primary justifications given is that caps on damages purportedly prevent frivolous lawsuits, prevent runaway jury verdicts, reduce healthcare costs, and/or prevent doctors from fleeing to states with caps on damages.

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Illinois Officials Failed To Investigate Most Hospital Complaints

November 15, 2011

The Illinois Department of Public Health (or IDPH) was formed "to regulate medical practitioners." Medical practitioners include doctors and hospitals. The IDPH's is "responsible for protecting the state's 12.4 million residents...through prevention and control of disease and injury." Despite these obligations, the IDPH has failed to investigate 85% of hospital complaints it received last year including complaints of serious patient abuse and death.

Of the hospital complaints received by the IDPH, one included a bacterial infection that spread through Harrisburg Medical Center and killed at least one patient. During this time, nurses and doctors in that hospital reportedly failed to wear protective gloves and gowns--basic precautions used to reduce the spread of serious infection. In response, the IDPH declined to investigate. At Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital, the IDPH received a complaint a nurse misused an IV machine, resulting in a near fatal medication error. In response, the IDPH declined to investigate. In addition, the IDPH received complaints that patients at Greater Peoria Specialty Hospital were being left in their own feces and, as a result, developed dangerous infections. Once again, the IDPH declined to investigate.

Federal law requires that complaints of serious personal harm or death in hospitals be investigated within 48 hours. This law applies to all states, including Illinois. Despite these federal requirements, the IDPH usually never conducted any investigation into complaints of serious personal injury or wrongful death at anytime--let alone within 48 hours.

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Cosmetic Surgery On Patients By Non-Doctors - Yes It Happens

November 11, 2011

Last September, I wrote about the medical dangers of cheap cosmetic surgery by unqualified doctors. The article discussed the benefits of choosing a board certified cosmetic surgeon compared to often lesser-trained doctors. The article focused on differences among doctors--the key word being doctors. Unfortunately, there are some individuals performing cosmetic surgery on patients who are not even doctors. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I cannot stress enough the surgical error risks associated with individuals performing surgery who are not licensed to practice medicine. A cheap cosmetic procedure is no bargain if you do not survive.

In order to become a licensed physician in the United States, extensive medical education and training is required. Following a four-year undergraduate degree, students wishing to become medical doctors must complete fours of education at medical school. After medical school, students earn their doctor of medicine. However, before practicing medicine on their own, these doctors must complete additional training in a three to seven year residency program under the supervision of a senior physician educator. Doctors completing their residency program may then practice medicine on their own although they have the option to receive additional training in a fellowship program. Fellowship trained physicians receive one to three years of additional training in a subspecialty.

Despite the fact becoming a doctor in the US requires extensive medical training, there are some who fraudulently hold themselves out as doctors even though they are not. Some of these people even perform medical procedures like plastic surgery--not only in third world countries--but right here in the United States. Consider the just one city, Las Vegas, Nevada. In the last two years, three people have been charged with performing cosmetic surgeries on patients in Las Vegas without a medical license.

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Jackson's Doctor Declines To Testify: Closing Arguments Next

November 3, 2011

It always seemed unlikely Dr. Conrad Murray would ever testify in his own defense. A cross examination of Dr. Murray would be blistering, as he was paid $150,000 a month by Jackson to give Jackson a dangerous surgically anesthetic to help the pop star sleep. On Tuesday, Dr. Murray made it official. He told the judge in his criminal trial he will not take the stand. Dr. Murray is accused of criminal medical negligence in connection with Michael Jackson's death, though the official charge is involuntary manslaughter. The prosecution and defense had a day off on Wednesday to prepare for closing arguments scheduled for Thursday. After closing arguments, the Judge will instruct the jury on the law. The case is then turned over to the jury to deliberate whether Dr. Murray should be found guilty or innocent. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I am eager to see how each side will present their closing arguments and, most importantly, how the jury will decide this fascinating case.


As with a civil medical malpractice case, the prosecution must generally prove Dr. Murray was negligent (albeit criminally) and that his negligence was caused Jackson's death. Unlike a civil case, the prosecution must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt rather than a preponderance of the evidence. The defense does not have to prove anything. They need only demonstrate reasonable doubt on whether Dr. Murray was negligent or whether he caused Jackson's death. As predicted, the primary battle is over whether Dr. Murray caused Jackson's death. After all, none of Dr. Murray's experts seemed to offer credible testimony that it was within the standard of care for Dr. Murray to give Jackson propofol, an anesthesia drug, to help him sleep in his home. Dr. Murray's central defense is that Jackson caused his own death when he allegedly gave himself propofol while Dr. Murray briefly left the room for a bathroom break.

Causation is the relationship between conduct and result. In nearly all cases, causation requires a two-part part analysis. First, was the defendant's conduct the "factual cause" of harm? In other words, but for the defendant's conduct, would the harm have still occurred. If so, the second questions is whether the defendant's conduct was the "legal cause" of the harm? Legal causation generally turns on whether it was "reasonably foreseeable" that the defendant's conduct could cause the harm.

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Medical Malpractice Suit Filed After Asthmatic Boy Sent To 3 Hospitals In 11 Hrs

September 26, 2011

On September 13, 2010, Sharese Pointer took her asthmatic son to St. James Hospital in Olympia Fields, Illinois after he began experiencing asthmatic symptoms. Shortly after arrival, the hospital told the family they did not have proper equipment to care for their 7 year-old boy, Aaron, and they advised he should go to their other hospital in Chicago Heights. Aaron was then taken by ambulance to St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights. There, hospital doctors stated they, too, could not care for the child. The Pointer family did not have private health insurance and, instead, only had Medicare coverage. So, Aaron and was, once again, sent to another hospital--St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet--some thirty miles away during rush hour traffic. While en route to the third hospital, Aaron spoke his last words before dying "I...am...tired...of...breathing." As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I am sickened by this story. This little boy died needlessly, I would argue, after being shuffled off to three different hospitals in eleven hours.

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Medical Dangers Of Cheap Cosmetic Surgery By Unqualified Doctors

September 23, 2011

As we age or gain weight, some of us turn to cosmetic surgery believing it will make us look or "feel better about ourselves." Because cosmetic surgery is seldom covered by insurance, many shop around for the doctor or medical facility that offers the lowest price. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I see these cases all too often. Choosing the lowest priced doctor to perform a cosmetic procedure can have deadly consequences.

On February 14, 2010--Valentines Day--James Howard woke up excited to spend time with his wife Kellee Lee-Howard. Later that morning, when he walked into the living room, he found Kellee lying dead on the couch. The day before, she underwent a "minimally invasive" liposuction surgery. She chose the Alyne Medical Rejuvenation Institute after seeing their ad offering liposuction as a "safe" way to lose weight through surgery. Although the name may sound sophisticated or professional, this "Institute" was not registered as a surgery center. Nor was the doctor who performed the surgery board certified in any field.

A board certified doctor is one who has proven to meet all of the qualification required by the American Board of Medical Specialties, which includes taking and passing their medical specialty examination. Like many other doctors who perform cosmetic surgery, Dr. Alberto Sant Antonio was not board certified in any particular specialty let alone plastic surgery when he performed liposuction on Kathee Lee-Howard. Indeed, because of the lax nature of many state medical regulations, doctors in various fields including optometrists, radiologists and pediatricians have decided to open up their own cosmetic surgery practice. After all, cosmetic surgery can be very lucrative and requires very little training. How little training? Some liposuction courses are taught in just three days.

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Medical Malpractice Deaths From High Risk Surgery Likely Down

June 3, 2011

According to a recent study conducted by Dr. John Finks of the University of Michigan, operative deaths from high-risk procedures have dropped over the last decade. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I am encouraged by the results of this study. However, digging deeper into the study, this reduction in surgical deaths appears to be largely limited to high volume hospital. In other settings, the rate of death for surgical procedures, including higher risk, does not appear to have dropped and is still unacceptably high.

A surgical error case is a type of medical malpractice case where a patient suffered injury or death because of a medical mistake during surgery. Most surgical error cases involve allegations against a surgeon. However, others medical providers may be guilty of medical malpractice during surgery including surgical nurses, physicians assistants, and intra-operative monitoring technicians. Whether any medical provider is guilty of medical negligence is based on whether that provider complied with the standard of care. The standard of care is what a reasonable medical provider in that field would have done under the same or similar circumstances. Of course, not all surgical deaths are due to malpractice. The Michigan University study does not distinguish between deaths due to medical malpractice and deaths that are not. However, it is reasonable to conclude a reduction in surgical deaths at high-volume hospitals (compared to other facilities) necessarily means the number of malpractice deaths from high risk surgery has also declined.

According to the University of Michigan study, rising hospital volumes appears to be the driving force behind the decrease in deaths for high-risk surgeries. Higher volume facilities are thought to have more experienced and skilled surgeons on staff than other facilities. The study found that higher volume hospitals accounted for 67% of the decrease in mortality for pancreatectomy procedures (which involves the removal of the pancreas). For cystectomy procedures (involving the removal of the urinary bladder), the decrease was 37%. According to the study, one reason for the successful decline in deaths from these higher risk procedures is that they are "relatively uncommon; thus, the financial penalty is minimized for smaller hospitals that refer patients to higher volume centers."

Once again, the good news on reduced death from high risk procedures must be tempered by the fact the reduction is primarily limited to high volume centers. The author of the study cautioned that "although the trend toward safer surgery are encouraging, tens of thousands of patients in the United States still die every year undergoing inpatient surgery." Commenting further, the author noted that "wide variations in outcomes across hospitals suggest further opportunities for improvement."

One area where surgical errors can be significantly reduced in any hospital setting is through the implementation of a surgical checklist in the operating room. Indeed, earlier this year, a Netherlands study found that a simple surgical check-list can prevent one third of medical mistakes . Much like a pre-flight check list for pilots before take off, a surgical checklist provides the surgical team a list of items that must be done and checked off to ensure nothing is missed during surgery. However, many hospitals in the United States still down not require a surgical checklist.

Interestingly, the University of Michigan study adopted the surgical checklist strategy as an effective tool that should be used to reduce the number patient deaths from surgery. The study discussed other important suggestions to increase patient safety. These measures include outcomes measurement, feedback programs, and collaborative quality improvement initiatives. Indeed, all these recommendations can substantially reduce the number of preventable surgical deaths regardless of whether the hospital is a large, high volume center. We can only hope all hospitals will ultimately find the motivation to implement them.

Source Used:
High-Risk Surgery Deaths Down Over Prior Decade, Medpage Today, 6-2-11