What Are Some of the Most Notorious Cases of Medical Malpractice?

At some point in their life, almost everyone will need to go to the hospital or visit a doctor’s office to get treatment for a medical complication they’re facing. When we visit a medical professional, whether to receive an expert opinion or have a surgery performed, we put our trust in their ability to provide safe and effective care. Unfortunately, doctors are human too and mistakes can occur despite rigorous standards in the medical industry.

In this article, we discuss some particularly noteworthy cases of medical malpractice that have occurred throughout the years. By scrutinizing the consequences of careless, negligent, or unscrupulous medical teams, we can work to reduce similar instances of medical malpractice in the future. 

What is Medical Malpractice? 

“Medical malpractice” encompasses a range of actions whereby a doctor or other medical professional fails to meet the appropriate standard of care and directly harms a patient in the process. Although it would be unreasonable to expect a doctor to be able to recognize and treat any type of injury or illness, they are obligated to know and follow standard medical procedures to protect the well-being of patients. If a doctor is not equipped to treat a particular injury or condition, they should refer their patient to a reputable specialist that can be of assistance.

When doctors and other medical experts fail to uphold standard operating procedures, patients may suffer serious or even fatal harm. In such a situation, the offending party’s actions may be legally considered medical malpractice. If you or a loved one suffer harm due to a doctor’s error, a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer at Youman & Caputo may be able to help.

Using the Right Tools During Surgery is Essential

In one of the most blatant cases of intentional medical malpractice to date, a Hawaii surgeon was sued in 2006 after he intentionally inserted a sawed-off screwdriver into a patient’s back. The surgeon, Robert Ricketson, was performing a back surgery when he realized that he was missing the titanium rods required to complete the operation. Instead of halting the procedure or acquiring the correct rods, Ricketson decided to utilize a stainless steel screwdriver instead.

As one might guess, the screwdriver was much flimsier than the surgical rods that were meant to be implanted. It snapped mere days after the initial surgery, requiring the patient to undergo three additional surgeries to implant the proper rods and correct other problems. The victim was unfortunately rendered a paraplegic and passed away two years after the initial operation. Had nurses not witnessed Ricketson removing the broken screwdriver and alerted the victim’s family, the cause of his debilitating injury may have never been discovered. The doctor’s license was later revoked in Hawaii. 

Improper Usage of Anesthesia Can Have Severe Consequences

In many cases, anesthesia is used during surgical procedures to minimize the amount of pain and discomfort experienced by patients. In some cases, a condition called anesthesia awareness can occur. For a number of reasons, usually due to faulty equipment, improper care, or severe medical conditions, a patient may not be adequately sedated during the procedure. The patient will be able to feel pain but may be unable to move or cry out, making it challenging for surgeons to recognize that the patient is conscious. 

In this specific instance, patient Sherman Sizemore underwent an exploratory surgery to discover the cause of abdominal pain. He was given paralyzing drugs to keep him from moving during the procedure but general anesthesia was not applied before the surgery began. For the first sixteen minutes of the surgery, Sizemore was awake and in pain. After the nightmarish procedure, Sizemore was unable to sleep, couldn’t be left alone, and claimed that unknown people were trying to bury him alive. About two weeks after the procedure, Sizemore ended his own life.

Amputations Can Be Necessary, But Not When the Wrong Limb is Removed

In some cases, an amputation may be necessary to remove a badly damaged or infected limb. Doing so can prevent additional health complications and potentially even save the victim’s life. However, amputation errors can have devastating consequences. Take the case of Willie King as an example. He was due to have his right foot removed due to complications from diabetes. Instead, his doctor mistakenly amputated his left foot! Weeks later, King was still forced to have his right foot amputated as well, which was the initial plan.

King alleges that his doctor and a member of the hospital’s risk management team visited him after the initial botched surgery to try and convince him that they had needed to amputate his left foot as well. The doctor was later fined and received a six-month suspension of his medical license, while King pursued a successful injury lawsuit against the surgeon and hospital. 

Blood Type Compatibility is Essential for Organ Transplants

In 2003, a 17-year-old patient named Jesica Santillan was scheduled to undergo a heart and double lung transplant. However, a significant error resulted in the patient receiving organs with the wrong blood type, which caused her body to reject the transplants. The victim’s antibodies began attacking and destroying her new organs, which put her into a coma. More than a dozen people at the hospital and the organizations providing the organs failed to check the patient’s compatibility. 

By the time the hospital admitted their error, Santillan had already suffered irreversible brain damage. A second transplant, this one with compatible organs, was performed but the patient was unable to be saved. A lack of proper protocols and shocking negligence by medical staff contributed to the entirely avoidable incident. 

Preventable Medical Errors Are Always Tragic

Everyone makes the occasional mistake, but it is scary to think about the harm that can be caused by even the simplest of medical errors. A momentary lapse of judgment or failure to follow standard medical procedures can have serious or even fatal consequences. We hope that by spreading awareness of known cases of medical malpractice in the U.S. the problem will gradually be eliminated through enhanced scrutiny and more effective safeguards. 

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