What are the Facts About Infections and Medical Malpractice?
June 21, 2021
Before undergoing a medical procedure, patients are often asked to sign a form warning them about the risk of infection. However, patients who develop a serious infection because of the negligence of a health care provider or institution may have the right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Knowing the facts about infections and medical malpractice can help patients protect their rights and their health. Patients who have developed a serious infection that may be due to someone else’s negligence should contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.
How Do Infections Develop?
Infections develop when microorganisms enter the human body and cause harm. Infectious microscopic organisms are also known as pathogens. One of the dangers of pathogens is that they multiply quickly. This is why rapid diagnosis and treatment of infections are so important in preserving the health of patients.
There are a variety of ways in which pathogens spread, including the following:
- Contact with contaminated surgical tools or surfaces
- Transfer of fluids into the body
- Contact with feces
- Ingesting contaminated water or food
- Inhaling contaminated droplets in the air
- Contact with broken skin
When patients are being treated by a doctor or admitted to a hospital or nursing home, they expect that the utmost care will be taken to make sure that pathogens do not spread and cause harm. Health care providers are also expected to identify infections quickly in order to administer treatment needed to stop the reproduction of pathogens in the patient’s body. Failure to do so may be viewed as negligence.
What Types of Infections May be Grounds for a Medical Malpractice Claim?
The types of infections that may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim include but are not limited to the following:
- Hospital-acquired infections
- Misdiagnosed infections
- Infections resulting from perforations during examinations
Hospital-acquired infections, also called nosocomial infections, occur only after a patient has been admitted to a hospital or health care institution; they do not include infections named in the patient’s initial diagnosis before they were admitted. Hospital-acquired infections typically develop within one or two days after the patient has been admitted.
Patients would like to believe that hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics are clean and sanitary institutions, but in fact, nearly two million people develop hospital-acquired infections each year in the United States. Although many people recover, more than 100,000 of these patients die as a result. Tragically, many healthy patients who go to a hospital for a minor procedure may end up developing a serious hospital-acquired infection.
What are the Causes of Hospital-Acquired Infections?
There are a number of causes of hospital-acquired infections, including the following:
- The wide variety of bacteria found in a clinical setting
- Unsterile surgical tools
- Improper use of antibiotics
- Lack of handwashing and other cleanliness measures while administering IVs, medication, intubation, and catheterization
- Problems with the hospital’s HVAC filtration system
- Contaminated surfaces because of improper janitorial cleaning
The weakened state of patients’ immune systems after undergoing surgery and anesthesia makes them more susceptible to developing hospital-acquired infections from these causes.
Improper use of antibiotics also contributes to the harm caused by hospital-acquired infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 35,000 people in the United States die every year of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Patients should remember that health care facilities are responsible for adhering to widely accepted standard practices for ensuring sterility and cleanliness. When deviation from those practices results in serious infection, patients may have the right to sue for medical malpractice.
Why are Some Infections Misdiagnosed?
Symptoms of infection include but are not limited to fever, rash, headache, nausea, and swelling. Doctors have a wide variety of tests at their disposal for diagnosing infections, including bloodwork and X-rays. They also have the option of consulting with specialists.
Some infections are misdiagnosed for the following reasons:
- A patient’s medical records are inaccurate or incomplete.
- The doctor failed to take the time to order standard tests.
- The doctor failed to consult a specialist.
These failures may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim depending on the degree of negligence involved, the seriousness of the infection, and the specific damages that resulted from the harm suffered by the patient.
Misdiagnosed infections also include misdiagnosing the site of the infection. A study published by the journal Critical Care found that misdiagnosing the site of an infection was associated with a 10 percent increase in in-hospital mortality rates.
Misdiagnosis of middle-ear infections in children is also fairly common, although this rarely results in patient deaths.
Infections from Perforations During Examinations and Surgery
Adverse events during surgery or examinations are a frequent cause of injury and death according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
The study estimated that approximately three percent of surgeries resulted in infections or other serious complications that were primarily attributed to human error.
The American Journal of Roentgenology has also reported on patients experiencing perforations of the colon during routine gastroenterological examinations. In all of these incidents, relatively healthy patients were harmed by infections and complications arising from medical errors made during routine examinations and surgical procedures.
When Do Infections Become Fatal?
Infections can become fatal if they develop into sepsis. This happens when a person’s body produces an overwhelming amount of immune chemicals into the blood in response to an infection. Left untreated, sepsis severally damages internal organs and can cause death. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 270,000 Americans die each year of sepsis.
The symptoms of sepsis include high fever, body-wide inflammation, elevated heart and respiratory rate, elevated respiratory rate, fever, and a high white blood cell count. In many cases, sepsis is due to a hospital-acquired infection.
Determining liability for injuries or death resulting from sepsis acquired in a hospital is quite complex and requires legal skill and intensive investigation. This entails discovering exactly how the patient acquired the infection, from unsterile tools, lax practices, or other causes, as well as why it was not promptly diagnosed and treated.
When Should I Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?
Patients should contact a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as they are aware that a serious infection that they have contracted may be due to a medical error or other negligence on the part of a health care provider or institution. There are time limits to commencing a medical malpractice action, and any delay may jeopardize a patient’s right to recover damages.
Qualified medical malpractice lawyers will immediately review the statute of limitations to ensure prompt filing of claims. Next, they will obtain all necessary medical records and investigate all available documentation. If needed, they will hire medical experts to review the claims. Most medical malpractice lawyers will not charge a fee unless there is a settlement or money judgment.
Does Galfand Berger LLP Handle Medical Malpractice Claims Involving Infections?
In addition to representing injured workers throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Galfand Berger lawyers have successfully handled major medical malpractice claims involving infections, including the following:
Doctor fails to diagnose infection in patient. The client fell and suffered bone fractures. The client visited his doctor, who sent him home without recognizing symptoms of a severe infection. The client developed major complications from misdiagnosis of the infection. The medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP obtained a $1.3 million settlement for the injured client.
Patient develops severe infection after perforation during an examination. Our client was injured when a doctor poked a hole in the wall of her large intestine during an examination. She required major surgery and hospitalization after developing a serious infection as a result of the medical error made during this procedure. Galfand Berger lawyers obtained a settlement of $800,000 for the injured client.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Assist Patients Who Have Been Injured Because of Improper Treatment
Doctors and other medical providers have a duty to provide competent care to their patients. When individuals suffer because they do not receive proper care, grounds may exist for a medical lawsuit. The Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are dedicated to assisting patients who have been injured because of improper treatment. If you or someone you know may have experienced a serious injury from medical malpractice, reach out to us. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.