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When medical malpractice leads to wrongful death

When Tennessee residents check into a hospital, they believe that the doctors, nurses, lab technicians and other personnel have the education, skill and training necessary to deliver adequate if not superior care. They expect to be treated with compassion, dignity and professionalism. They also expect that they will leave the hospital better than when they arrived. The last thing they expect is that someone will make a mistake that worsens their condition or leads to their death.

Sadly, many health care professionals do not live up to these expectations. The Institute of Medicine estimates that up to 100,000 Americans die each year due to preventable medical errors. Per the American Medical Association, the problem of medical errors has become so acute that it now is the third leading cause of death

While there are many forms of medical malpractice, most medical errors fall into one of the following three categories:

  1. Emergency room errors
  2. Diagnostic errors
  3. Surgical errors

Emergency room errors

Emergency rooms often are frantic places where numerous health care professionals rush from patient to patient. Medical errors can and often do happen. Sometimes a patient’s history and physical exam are inadequate. Sometimes necessary tests are not ordered. Sometimes the lab makes one or more errors on ordered tests or mixes up which test applied to which patient. Sometimes an ER doctor will delay and/or fail to properly treat a patient, decline to admit him or her to the hospital, and/or discharge him or her prematurely.

Diagnostic errors

While misdiagnoses can and do occur in the ER, doctors in private practice are responsible for the majority of them. Such diagnostic errors can lead to a patient’s death from one or more of the following:

  • Heart attack
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Bacterial meningitis

Surgical errors

Surgical errors likewise can lead to catastrophic results, including patient death. Sometimes a patient undergoes an unneeded and/or a negligently prolonged surgery. Sometimes improper surgical methods and techniques result in blood clots, internal organ damage, and/or medical paraphernalia left in the patient’s body. Sometimes a patient receives the improper anesthesia, the improper amount of anesthesia, or may have a massive allergic reaction to the anesthesia. Improper and/or ineffective intra-operative or post-operative procedures can lead to preventable infections that can kill the patient.

When a patient dies as the result of a medical error, the family can sue the health care professional(s) for wrongful death. The suit also can include the facility for which they work.

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