Common Medical Malpractice Cases & Scenarios
Interviewer: Now, for the people that are affected medical malpractice, I don’t know if this makes any sense, but for some reason or another, is there any particular type of person you see that this happens to more often? More women than men? Or older people?
Charles Price: I would say definitely older people versus younger people. They just statistically are going to come into contact with the medical profession or healthcare providers more regularly and for different reasons than younger people. People in their twenties are the least common. Thirties a little more. Forties more so. Once you start getting into the 50s, 60s, and 70s, you’re having frequent contact with healthcare providers and you’re having various risk factors that come into play for various diseases like cardiac disease or cancer. These are the kinds of things that the doctors have to be vigilant for. I would say I see older people more often than younger people, but not necessarily any more men than women. That’s probably evenly balanced.
Interviewer: You have a lot of experience. Getting into medical malpractice, is it just against doctors that these cases happen or is it against any kind of medical professional?
Charles Price: The way we analyze it is that if it’s a malpractice case, it’s always against some type of healthcare provider. There’s a specific statute in Connecticut that describes a healthcare provider and what that is. That healthcare provider can be anyone from a physical therapist to a nursing home nurse to a general practitioner in internal medicine to any kind of a specialist, like a radiologist. We’ve handled anesthesia cases, ophthalmology cases, cancer cases involving oncology, gynecologic examinations of women for breast cancer, and obstetrical malpractice involving either injured or deceased babies or other problems or complications associated with pregnancy.
We see all types of surgical cases including injuries to nerves or other organs, like adjacent organs that should not be injured during the course of a procedure that end up getting injured and resulting in the death or the injury of a patient; all sorts of infection cases including infections that unfortunately result in the death of a person; and malpractice cases involving claims against healthcare providers where the healthcare provider breeched an accepted standard of practice and as a result of breeching that standard of practice caused injury to someone.
Interviewer: Is there any type of medical professional that tends to get in trouble more than others or the ones that you see more commonly?
Charles Price: A pretty common set of circumstances is surgical errors. That is where surgeons, for one reason or another, don’t keep proper control of their instruments, like they don’t properly observe where they’re instrumenting with various types of instruments that are inserted into your body. For example, a frequent occurrence of surgical injury is during what is called laparoscopic procedures which are different from open procedures where they completely open up your abdomen for surgery.
Laparoscopic procedures are where they insert one instrument through one opening in your abdomen and a camera through another instrument through another opening in your abdomen, and they look at where their instrument is, for example, to take out your gall bladder. What you don’t want to have happen is for the surgeon to not look where they are cutting and instead of taking out the gall bladder without injury, they injure the liver, injure the bile duct, or injure some other artery that is in and around that area, thus causing huge problems for the patient once that surgical injury has occurred. We have all sorts of surgical cases.
We have a lot of infection cases where people go to the hospital and are not treated properly and end up dying from an infection that was not treated properly. I wouldn’t say there is any one particular specialty that gets involved in cases more than others, but certainly surgeons are in a pretty high-risk profession. Frankly, with regular internal medicine doctors, a large number of cases we have involve cardiac issues where a patient has cardiac risk factors and goes to their primary care doctor who then does not refer the patient to a cardiologist. The patient, for example, suffers a fatal heart attack or a very serious heart attack. We see a lot of claims against primary care doctors for cardiac issues as well.
Interviewer: The cases that come to you, do they tend to have a common theme of how they’ve evolved from first contact with the medical professional until they claim the injury? Or they all over the place?
Charles Price: They are kind of all over the place. Sometimes we have people who contact us immediately after a surgical event, for example, where they know that a complication has occurred during their surgery and they are aware of it right away. For example, it was maybe supposed to be a simple one-day in-and-out surgery and the next thing you know, the patient is in the hospital and in intensive care for three months. Then, when they get out of the hospital, they of course make it somewhat of a priority to contact a lawyer.
They have sometimes been encouraged to do so by their family members or friends. The cases do all vary. Some people wait, for some reason, for a considerable period of time after an event before they decide that they want to do something about it. Sometimes the person’s condition has to evolve over a certain course of time to see it’s really a serious injury or not. That’s a little bit along that line.
Interviewer: You probably covered this, but are there any main factors that cause a medical malpractice event to happen?
Charles Price: I think there is a very basic concept that exists in medicine and it’s taught from the very first day you’re in medical school. It’s the concept of what’s called “differential diagnosis.” That simply means that when a doctor sees a patient for the first time for a medical problem, the doctor has to analyze all the different possibilities of what could be causing that patient’s condition or symptoms. The doctor is obligated under these rules of differential diagnosis to consider the most serious, or what we call morbid, possibilities first and rule those out in some systematic way so that they can be reassured that the condition the patient is suffering from is not immediately life-threatening. That’s the concept of differential diagnosis.
An example I can use is a 52-year-old woman who smokes, who is somewhat overweight, and who has a family history of heart disease. She goes into the hospital emergency department. She is evaluated by an emergency room doctor and she has abdominal pain. It’s not classic chest pain, but she has abdominal pain. She still falls into the category of patients who are at high risk for cardiac disease.
That doctor in analyzing that patient can’t presume that the patient’s sensations of pain in the abdomen are in fact really coming from the abdomen. The doctor in that circumstance would be obligated to consider a potential cardiac diagnosis, for example. Have the lady have an EKG, take some blood, and check out her cardiac enzymes and the levels in her blood that might show whether she’s having a heart attack. The doctor is obligated to rule out the heart attack and not automatically assume that she has a stomachache. A very significant cause of medical malpractice is doctors not property engaging in differential diagnosis.