Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

A recent research study reveals that hospital deaths are significantly higher when the patient is admitted on the weekend rather than during the week. The study cites lower staffing levels and less experienced hospital staff working weekends as possible explanations for the higher mortality rate.

This same study also concluded that being discharged from the hospital on a Friday has increased risks of death or readmission within thirty days. Early discharge may occur on a Friday in the rush to get patients out of the hospital and therefore, inadequate discharge instructions are given or the increased likelihood of discharging a patient before they are medically stable to go home occurs.

The lesson to be learned here is that one should try to avoid admission to a hospital over the weekend (which, of course, is sometimes unavoidable) or being discharged before the weekend. If you or your family member is discharged on a Friday, be sure to confirm with the physician your understanding of all discharge instructions, including all reasons that you would need to return to the hospital.

One of the nation’s largest health insurers was accused of overcharging millions of Americans for healthcare. The company, UnitedHealth Group, has agreed to pay a $50 million settlement after investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s office. The investigation arose after hundreds of patients complained to the state about medical care and procedures that were not being reimbursed as “usual, customary or reasonable” charges by UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth Group justified its withholding of coverage on the grounds that an “independent” company, Ingenix, had reviewed the care and treatment and deemed it outside the coverage. The investigation revealed that Ingenix is owned by UnitedHealth Group and therefore, questions were raised about the independence of its review process. Many of the patient are contemplating bringing a class action lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group.

Pierce & Thornton encourages you to review your health insurance company’s policies so that you are aware of covered and non-covered medical expenses.

Early detection of colon cancer by colonoscopy may be more challenging than prior studies have shown. A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that nearly 30 to 40 percent of colorectal cancers may not be detected by a colonoscopy. This is a prevention rate far less than that reported historically by doctors. The study further concluded that nearly all cancers on the right side of the colon and about one-third of cancers in the left side of the colon are not visible from the study. The study includes data from colonoscopies performed by internists as well as gastroenterologists, which may have some bearing on the outcome. Despite these new findings, researchers still strongly recommend that patients continue to have the test as a preventative measure.

If you or a loved one has concerns that their colon cancer was not timely diagnosed, call Pierce & Thornton to discuss your potential case.

The use of multiple pain and other prescription medications is leading to deadly results for patients. A recent study indicates that there has been a 700% increase in the number of at-home deaths caused by medication overdoses or errors. The age group most affected were baby boomers in their 40s and 50s. The authors of the study attribute the increase to the combination of medical supervision decreasing while the use of prescription painkillers and other powerful medications — many of which used to be available only in the hospital setting– have increased exponentially over the past two decades. Multiple prescription drugs taken at once — like the sleeping pills, painkillers and anxiety drugs that killed “Dark Knight” star Heath Ledger — also play a part.

Abuse of prescription drugs plays a role, but the study did not conclude how much. Valid prescriptions taken in error, especially narcotics such as methadone and oxycodone, were reported to account for a growing number of deaths, according to medical experts who reviewed the study. Another interesting finding was the number of people who loan or give their prescription to others — about 25% have done so — according to the research. Some advocate more education about the dangers of combining certain drugs with other medications (for example, with alcohol) while others believe that these numbers bring home the message that as a society we have become “drug happy” with the notion that medicines can fix everything.

Pierce & Thornton’s lawyers have represented patients and their family members who have sustained serious injury or death from medication errors.

In Virginia Beach and across Hampton Roads, summer is synonymous with going to the beach or pool and catching rays. However, the dangers associated with unprotected sun exposure have been once again highlighted by a government cancer study released yesterday. The study from the National Cancer Institute found that the rate of new melanoma cases in younger women (15 to 39 years of age) has jumped 50% since 1980, while the incidence among males has stayed relatively stable. Sunbed tanning and more exposure to natural sunlight are cited as possible reasons for the dramatic increase in melanoma among younger women. Each year, approximately 62,000 melanomas are diagnosed in the U.S., and approximately 8,300 people die from the disease annually.

Melanoma is a highly aggressive and the most fatal form of skin cancer if not diagnosed and treated before it spreads beyond its primary location in the skin. If diagnosed while it is still a “thin” (less than 1mm thick lesion), the outcome is favorable, as approximately 90% of melanoma patients are cured. The government’s new numbers about the surge in melanoma cases should make everyone think twice about sunbathing or using a tanning bed without adequate sunscreen or other skin protection.

Pierce & Thornton has extensive experience in representing patients and their families in cases where they have suffered the consequences of melanoma or other cancer not being timely diagnosed by their physician. We have worked with top melanoma experts from across the United States who diagnose and treat melanoma and have gone to trial to seek compensation for those who have lost a loved one due to negligent medical treatment. If you, any family member or friend have any questions about melanoma or other types of cancer that may not have been diagnosed when it should have been, call us for a free consultation.

A Virginia child with brain damage and cerebral palsy caused by oxygen deprivation at birth has received a $1.35 million settlement. The plaintiff asserted that the doctors failed to respond to their son’s deteriorating condition in the hours before his birth. The doctors at the University of Virginia denied any allegations of medical negligence and further argued that they were immune from suit because they were employed by a Foundation that provided care to indigent patients.

The Supreme Court of Virginia recently ruled that the Foundation that employs the doctors (the University of Virginia Foundation) followed the model of a profitable commercial business and was not a charitable institution and therefore was not immune from suit under the charitable immunity doctrine. The charitable immunity doctrine had previously prevented medical negligence suits from being pursued against the University of Virginia Foundation.

The medical malpractice cap in Virginia imposes its harshest consequences on children and families who are devastated by a birth injury. The settlement with UVA, although in excess of $1.3 million dollars will pay only a small portion of the $9 million dollars in life-long care that this child will need. Pierce & Thornton has experience in medical negligence cases involving injured children. If you or a family member has a child who suffered a birth injury, call Pierce & Thornton for assistance.

Virginia active duty military personnel injured by medical negligence at a military hospital (for example, Portsmouth Naval Hospital) cannot sue the government. The law that prevents this type of lawsuit, no matter how negligent or even willfully reckless the conduct by the government in providing medical care, came from United States Supreme Court case Feres v. United States. The reasoning behind the Feres doctrine is that it protects the government from costly, time-consuming trials that could also damage military discipline.

Medical negligence committed by the government against a military dependent, however, can be pursued. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), a dependent of an active duty military member who is injured or dies as a result of medical negligence by military medical personnel can pursue a claim in negligence. The attorneys at Pierce & Thornton have successfully handled medical negligence cases against the Federal government and have experience in Federal court, which is where an FTCA case must be filed.
Continue Reading

In Virginia, medication errors in the hospital setting may be on the rise, according to a recent study. The medical journal Pediatrics will soon publish a study indicating that about 1 out of 15 children who are patients in the hospital are injured by prescription errors. This translates into a rate of about 11 drug-related harmful events for every 100 hospitalized children, which means that an alarming 7.3% of hospitalized children (540,000 children annually) will suffer injury from either the wrong medication or too much medication being given to them.

At Pierce & Thornton, our attorneys have experience in medication error cases involving both adults and children who have been over-prescribed medication or given the wrong drug.

The recent experience of Dennis Quaid and his wife is a frightening example of what can happen as a result of medication errors. Their newborn twins were given 1,000 times more Heparin than the recommended dosage and nearly died. Their advice (and ours) to parents of hospitalized children is to always ask nurses what medication they are giving your child and why they are giving the medication. If your child has a known allergy to a medication, make sure that the nurses and doctors are reminded so that your child is not given that medication or some derivative of it by mistake. Simple concepts, for sure, but they may prevent a tragedy.

By now, most people have seen the national study that revealed that approximately 90,000 wrongful deaths were caused in the United States by medical malpractice. How can you, a family member or friend decrease the likelihood of suffering injury or death from medical negligence? One easy way is to ask your doctor about his experience in performing the type of procedure you are about to undergo. Ask what the “complication rate” is for the particular surgery. For example, what is the likelihood for infection or damaging an organ or nerve near the area being operated on? Some complications occur without medical negligence, while others occur because reasonable care was not taken by the surgeon or hospital staff.

In Virginia, you can obtain information about your healthcare provider online at This website gives information about your doctor’s qualifications, and whether he has ever settled a medical malpractice case or had a verdict rendered against him. Certainly, the fact that a healthcare provider has settled a medical negligence case does not mean that he is incompetent or should not be trusted as your physician. However, if you see multiple settlements or verdicts, you may want to consider another physician. It is an old cliché, but often, “where there is smoke, there is fire”. At a minimum, you can get some peace of mind that you have found out what you could about the doctor who is treating you.

Contact Information