Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

A Virginia medical malpractice case involving the death of a patient shortly after delivering a baby was recently settled by the attorneys of Pierce & Thornton. The facts of the case involve a nineteen year old pregnant woman who presented at full term to a community hospital. After several hours of labor and an arrested descent, she was taken shortly after midnight to the operating room for a caesarean section. Approximately fifteen minutes following the successful c-section delivery of her son, she exhibited “scant” then “moderate” bleeding and decreasing blood pressure and tachycardia. The PACU nurse assessed her uterus as “boggy.” The PACU nurse alerted the defendant OB-GYN of this change in condition and defendant immediately assessed the patient. Defendant expressed clots from the uterus and noted that the fundus was firm. Defendant ordered Oxytocin drip and continued to periodically assess the patient, who continued to hemorrhage.

Approximately 15 minutes after the patient’s vitals first worsened, the physician ordered blood products and uterotonics and continued to monitor the patient, whose vitals continued to reflect hypotension and tachycardia with impending hypovolemic shock. Defendant ordered an additional IV line for fluid resuscitation and continued to monitor her patient, massage the fundus and express clots from the uterus. The patient exhibited a transient improvement in vitals but did not stabilize. The decision was made to return to the operating room for laparotomy and potential hysterectomy. The defendant ultimately performed a hysterectomy after attempting to stop the bleeding with O’Leary stitches. During the procedure, additional units of blood were transfused and additional uterotonics administered in an attempt to stop the post-partum hemorrhage. Approximately 6 hours after the hysterectomy and after transfusion of over 12 units of blood, the patient coded multiple times over a two hour period and was pronounce dead at approximately 2:15 p.m. The cause of death was DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulopathy) caused by an atonic uterus.

The allegations of negligence centered on the defendant OB-GYN’s failure to recognize the extent of the post-partum hemorrhage and act more aggressively in the resuscitation and in the decision to return the patient to the OR for a life-saving hysterectomy. Plaintiff also challenged the defendant’s decision to order cross-matched rather than universal donor blood (O negative) which was available and would have been delivered substantially faster than the 45 minutes that elapsed during delivery of the cross-matched units. Defendants contended that the OB-GYN physician had acted reasonably by assessing her patient, ordering uterotonics and fluids, blood products and had returned her to the OR within 90 minutes of first learning of her patient’s hemorrhage. The sole beneficiary in the case was the child born shortly before his mother’s death.

A Federal Tort Claims Act case involving the death of a patient at a skilled and long term care facility was recently settled by the attorneys of Pierce & Thornton. The decedent, a seventy-six year old woman, was admitted to the nursing home where she was to undergo physical therapy following hospitalization for aggravation of a pre-existing compression fracture in her spine. Upon admission, she was noted to be alert and oriented; however she also had a suspected diagnosis of Parkinson’s and dementia. Her attending physician ordered various labs including a CBC and BMP. He also ordered her foley catheter discontinued. A Nurse Practitioner ordered a urine culture and sensitivity test. Over the course of the next week, the patient’s overall physical and mental condition progressively declined. After complaints by her husband and children, she was transferred to a hospital where she was found to be in septic shock and suffering urinary sepsis, dehydration, renal failure and pneumonia. Several of her laboratory values were critical including a BUN of 155 and a creatinine of 6.5. She was obtunded and suffering from multi-system organ failure. She died within 24 hours of admission to the hospital.

Plaintiff’s allegations of negligence against the attending physician included failing to insure that his orders were carried out by the nurses, failing to determine that various test results were not in the chart and failing to timely and properly monitor the patient’s overall declining condition. The allegations of negligence against the facility included the nurses’ failure to carry out certain physician’s orders including timely discontinuing the foley catheter and failing to insure that test results were placed in the patient’s chart. Plaintiff also alleged that the nurses failed to monitor the patient’s condition and report her decline to the attending physician.

Defendants’ experts contended that they complied with the standard of care in all respects. The attending physician’s experts contended that the patient was suffering from a debilitating neurological condition and had a limited life expectancy. Defendants further contended that the patient died from a rapidly progressing pneumonia that could not be timely diagnosed and treated. Plaintiff contended that the patient died as a result of complications from an undiagnosed and untreated urinary tract infection.

A Virginia wrongful death case alleging medical malpractice by a surgeon was recently settled by the attorneys of Pierce & Thornton. The facts of the case involve the death of a 49 year old man who underwent an arthroscopy with synovectomy operative procedure on his left knee in 2006. Eight days post-op defendant orthopedic surgeon diagnosed decedent with an acute deep venous thrombosis involving the gastrocnemius veins of the left lower extremity. He prescribed Lovenox and Coumadin to prevent the further development of DVT and a potentially fatal pulmonary embolus. Decedent remained on anticoagulation therapy for three months with no complications.

In 2008 the same surgeon performed an arthroscopy with an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction with hamstring autograft operative procedure on the decedent’s same knee. He was not placed on anticoagulation prophylaxis following the surgery. Six days post-op he acutely developed difficulty breathing with choking, chest pain and syncope. After initially recovering, while being transported to the hospital he stopped breathing and was noted to be with pulseless electrical activity. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at the hospital.

Plaintiff’s experts opined that decedent was at a higher than standard risk for a potentially fatal PE given his demonstrated history of DVT following the first surgery. They further opined that the second surgery was longer, involved more blood loss, a longer tourniquet time, decedent was two years older, heavier and less ambulatory; all further increasing the risk for clotting. Given all of the above, plaintiff contended that the defendant was negligent in failing to advise the decedent that he was at an increased risk for the development of DVT and PE and further negligent in failing to place him on prophylactic anticoagulation.

A Virginia wrongful death case alleging medical malpractice by a physician who gave the wrong medication to a patient was recently settled by the attorneys of Pierce & Thornton. The facts of the case involve the death of a 53 year old woman who presented to the hospital for placement of a port to accommodate dialysis. Prior to placing the port, a surgeon attempted to flush the patient’s vein with what he thought was Heparin, a blood thinner. Instead, the syringe to be used by the surgeon contained Thrombin, a clotting agent, which had been mistakenly filled by a nurse. Approximately sixty seconds after administering the medication, the patient suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest due to a massive pulmonary embolus caused by the Thrombin. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful and the patient expired. The case resolved prior to filing suit for $1.9 million.

The law firm of Pierce & Thornton specializes in medical malpractice litigation throughout Virginia, including in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Suffolk, and the Eastern Shore. The attorneys at Pierce & Thornton have nearly 50 years of experience in litigating all types of medical malpractice cases. They have obtained some of the largest jury verdicts and mediation settlements in Virginia over the past several years. We encourage you to contact our firm if you question the medical care rendered to you, a family member, or friend. If we can help you, we will. Your consultation is free.

A Virginia wrongful death case alleging medical malpractice was recently settled by the attorneys of Pierce & Thornton. The facts of the case involve the death of a 40 year old man who suffered a fracture of his tibia after being struck by a tree. He was evaluated in an emergency department, diagnosed with a fracture and referred to an orthopedist. Over the course of the next several days he experienced chest pain, coughing and shortness of breath and consulted with his PCP who arrived at a presumptive diagnosis of pneumonia and admitted him to the hospital for observation and treatment.

On the second day of his hospital admission a venous Doppler study revealed a deep venous thrombosis in his lower extremity. He was placed on anticoagulation therapy. Lab work revealed compromised kidney function thus a CT of the chest with contrast, which could definitively diagnose pulmonary emboli, was contraindicated. The decedent’s overall medical condition continued to worsen and his physicians continued to work under the presumptive diagnosis of pneumonia.

On the fourth day of admission, the decision was made to perform an open lung biopsy to diagnose the source of the decedent’s continued decline. Heparin therapy was stopped in an anticipation of the surgery. On the day of the scheduled surgery, it was determined that decedent needed to undergo dialysis. The surgery was postponed until the following day. The Heparin was not restarted and the decedent suffered a pulmonary embolus prior to the performance of the surgery the next morning, resulting in his death.

A recent article in The Washington Post reported that surgical “never” events – errors that should never occur, such as leaving an instrument inside a patient or operating on the wrong body part – resulted in paid medical malpractice claims about 500 times a year throughout the country, including Virginia. Of the patients experiencing “never” events, approximately 7% die, one-third incur a permanent injury, and 59% a temporary injury. The report goes on to note that the actual incidence of “never” events is likely higher due to the fact that the study only examined medical malpractice claims that were filed, rather than those that were settled pre-lawsuit or not filed. The physicians most likely to experience “never” events were those who had been sued in the past, as well as younger, less experienced doctors. Physicians and hospitals are using this research to identify scenarios where a “never” event is likely to occur and implementing higher standards and checklists, similar to other high risk industries, to reduce the number of occurrences of these events.

The law firm of Pierce & Thornton specializes in medical malpractice litigation throughout Virginia, including in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Suffolk, and the Eastern Shore. The firm associates on cases throughout the United States. The attorneys at Pierce & Thornton have nearly 50 years of experience in litigating all types of medical malpractice cases. They have obtained some of the largest jury verdicts and mediation settlements in Virginia over the past several years. We encourage you to contact our firm if you question the medical care rendered to you, a family member, or friend. If we can help you, we will. Your consultation is free.

A Virginia wrongful death case alleging medical malpractice was recently settled during trial by the attorneys of Pierce & Thornton. The facts of the case involve the death of a 46 year old mother of five. She underwent a laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy (“LSH”), a procedure where the uterus is removed but the cervix is preserved, in October 2009. During the procedure, defendant gynecological surgeon caused a 5 mm perforation in the decedent’s small bowel, which went undetected.

While recovering in the post-anesthesia care unit (“PACU”), the patient had difficulty with deep breathing and abdominal pain that was characterized as “gas pains.” The nurses and on-call physician who examined her in the PACU before discharge reassured her that her complaints were normal and likely related to her abdomen having been insufflated with carbon dioxide during the procedure. On exam in the PACU, the patient was noted to have normal vital signs, no guarding, rebound tenderness or other peritoneal signs. The attending physician advised that she could be admitted overnight if she wished, but the patient opted to leave the hospital. The patient had arranged to recuperate in a local hotel rather than at home because she had young children and a second floor bedroom.

The decedent called the physician’s office at approximately noon the next day and told the triage nurse that she was having continued gas pain and “horrible hot flashes and extreme sweats.” After receiving this message, defendant sent an email back to his nurse advising her to tell the patient to stop taking her Microgestin and “to ride-out the hot flashes.”

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reported that medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. The story reported that: (1) U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week; (2) about a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be harmed by medical errors; (3) if medical mistakes were classified as a disease, they would be the sixth leading cause of death in America; (4) medical mistakes cost tens of billions of dollars per year; and (5) medical errors often result in expensive and unnecessary medications, tests, and procedures. The article contended that a major cause of these problems is that doctors are far too willing to overlook the mistakes and errors of other doctors. The article went on to state that best way to help fight against this dangerous situation is for patients to demand more accountability of doctors and hospitals and for patients themselves to be better informed. Some practical steps suggested were for hospitals to publicly report their rates of infection, readmission, surgical complications, and medical errors so that patients can be better informed about which hospitals are safest. Other suggestions included encouraging nurses and other staff members to speak up when they notice a potential problem; using cameras in the operating room to better assess whether procedures are being done correctly; and having a more open dialogue about medical mistakes.

It is interesting to note that the number of autopsies being performed to determine the true cause of a patient’s death have declined drastically in the last ten years, thus making it more difficult to prove that a healthcare provider’s mistake caused the death. If you question the true cause of someone’s death, you should insist upon the performance of a complete autopsy. If the hospital or physician refuses, you have the right to have one performed at your own expense. The “cause of death” listed on a death certificate seldom even begins to shed light upon the true course of events that led to the death. You have a right to know the truth.

The law firm of Pierce & Thornton specializes in medical malpractice litigation throughout North Carolina and Virginia, including in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Suffolk, and the Eastern Shore. The attorneys at Pierce & Thornton have nearly 50 years of combined experience in litigating all types of medical malpractice cases. They have obtained some of the largest jury verdicts and mediation settlements in Virginia over the past several years. We encourage you to contact our firm if you question the medical care rendered to you, a family member, or friend. If we can help you, we will. Your consultation is free.

A Virginia jury recently returned a verdict in favor of an 84-year-old nursing home patient who sustained an un-witnessed fall in her bedroom. The nursing home patient claimed the fall was caused by the nursing home’s failure to apply and monitor a fall alarm in her bed, which was required by the patient’s care plan. The evidence at trial showed that the plaintiff’s fall caused left arm and left femur fractures, which required surgery, and resulted in permanent injuries and loss of mobility. The defense claimed that a bed alarm was used and that it sounded just before the fall, but that the nursing home’s staff was unable to reach the patient before the fall. After deliberations, the jury returned a multi-million dollar verdict in favor of the patient.

The law firm of Pierce & Thornton has handled nursing home negligence cases throughout Virginia, including cases in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Suffolk, and the Eastern Shore. We are also licensed to practice in North Carolina. The attorneys at Pierce & Thornton have tried, mediated and settled cases involving the incorrect administration or dosage of medication, falls, bed sores, decubitus ulcers resulting in respiratory arrests, myocardial infarctions, heart attacks, infections, brain damage, paralysis and wrongful death. We encourage you to contact our firm if you question the care rendered to you, a family member, or friend at a nursing, assisted living, rehabilitation therapy or hospice facility. If we can help you, we will. Your consultation is free.

The plaintiff’s decedent, age 40, suffered a fracture of his tibia after being struck by a tree. He was evaluated in an emergency department, diagnosed with a fracture and referred to an orthopedist. Over the course of the next several days he experienced chest pain, coughing and shortness of breath and consulted with his PCP who arrived at a presumptive diagnosis of pneumonia and admitted him to the hospital for observation and treatment.

On the second day of his hospital admission a venous Doppler study revealed a deep venous thrombosis in his lower extremity. He was placed on anticoagulation therapy. Lab work revealed compromised kidney function thus a CT of the chest with contrast, which could definitively diagnose pulmonary emboli, was contraindicated. The decedent’s overall medical condition continued to worsen and his physicians continued to work under the presumptive diagnosis of pneumonia.

On the fourth day of admission, the decision was made to perform an open lung biopsy to diagnose the source of the decedent’s continued decline. Heparin therapy was stopped in an anticipation of the surgery. On the day of the scheduled surgery, it was determined that decedent needed to undergo dialysis. The surgery was postponed until the following day. The Heparin was not restarted and the decedent suffered a pulmonary embolus prior to the performance of the surgery the next morning, resulting in his death.