Epiglottitis occurs when the epiglottis — the lid that covers the windpipe that is located at the base of the tongue -- swells. This can stop the flow of air into the lungs.
Left unchecked, the epiglottitis will lead to a complete pulmonary obstruction that will result in death. It is most commonly seen in your children between 3 and 7 years-old.
Most wrongful death medical malpractice cases that we have seen involving epiglottitis involve the failure to diagnose the condition in adults.What Causes the Problem and How to Solve It
There are many things that can cause the epiglottis to swell. The most common cause that leads to misdiagnosis cases is infection with Haemophilus influenzae type b. This is the same bacteria that can cause pneumonia and meningitis. Other bacteria and viruses can cause this condition, including Streptococcus A, B, and C and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Epiglottitis is generally treated with antibiotics which usually solves the problem when it is diagnosed in a timely fashion. In cases where the infection has progressed, intubation can be necessary to allow for air flow.Where the Mistakes Happen
Medical errors usually occur in the triage of the emergency room. In too many Maryland hospitals, the standard triage protocol that is so critical to stopping a problem before it festers, is lacking. If the providers in triage do not rule out an infection when a patient comes in with a fever, sore throat, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or other classic symptoms, the patient can go downhill very fast.
The risks increase when the patient has multiple symptoms. When this happens, the doctors often focus on one symptom when they have to identify and consider all the symptoms, even the secondary ones.
In a epiglottitis case, if a patient comes in with a fever of 104 and claims some problem breathing, the ER can't just focus on the fever. The physicians need to also rule out the possibility of an infection. Often, a simple blood test would find elevated white cell counts that would point to an infection.
There can also be mistakes in radiology. If the emergency room physicians suspect epiglottitis, they may order an x-ray to see if the flap of cartilage at the back of the tongue is swollen and obstructing the patient's breathing. The radiologist needs to catch it if it is there to be seen on the x-ray.Sample Verdicts and Settlements
Below are sample settlements and verdicts in these cases. It is important to note that these are some of the winners. The majority of these cases that go to trial result in a verdict for the doctor. Of course, the best cases never make it to trial because the doctor's insurance company makes sure they settle out-of-court.
Also, please keep in mind that these cases do not mean that a case with seemingly similar facts will get the same verdict. In fact, two cases with the exact same facts might get very different verdicts for a host of reasons.
Still, we provide these results because we think they are instructive for both victims and attorneys.
- District of Columbia: $24,297,770 Verdict: An infant, barely a year-old, was rushed to the D.C. General Hospital emergency room in severe respiratory distress. The paramedics had noted a possible airway obstruction. A differential diagnosis of epiglottitis and/or croup was made upon her arrival. Shortly thereafter, epiglottitis was ruled out, but the physicians neglected to conduct further tests to determine the cause of the infant’s distress. Her symptoms worsened and she soon fell into cardiac and respiratory failure. She went a total of 8 to 10 minutes without oxygen to the brain before they were able to intubate her. Luckily she survived, but the lack of oxygen ultimately left her with a permanent diagnosis of cerebral palsy and mental retardation. She will need full-time care for the rest of her life. A medical malpractice suit was filed on her behalf against the hospital. Plaintiff alleged the Defendant did not meet the necessary standard of care. Defendant argued against Plaintiff’s allegations and maintained that the respiratory and cardiac arrest were unexpected and sudden. A D.C. jury found in favor of the Plaintiff and awarded her $24,297,770.
- 1997, Michigan: $2,000,000 Settlement: A man arrived at an Illinois hospital with symptoms related to epiglottitis. He was examined by a physician and then left to wait in the ER for a total of two hours. Before he could receive the appropriate treatment, he went into respiratory and cardiac failure. He was pronounced brain dead shortly thereafter. A wrongful death suit was filed on his behalf. The parties ultimately came to a settlement before trial in the amount of $2,000,000.
- 2011, Pennsylvania: $1,070,000 Settlement: A 38 year-old man visited a local clinic with complaints of a severe sore throat and difficulty swallowing. The treating physicians diagnosed him with acute pharyngitis, recommended an over-the-counter medication, and sent him home. But the man’s condition deteriorated that day to the point where he was having difficulty breathing and was unable to speak. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where he was evaluated by a physician’s assistant. The physician’s assistant diagnosed the man with acute pharyngitis caused by a viral infection, gave him Motrin, and sent him on his way. Less than 24 hours later, he suffered respiratory arrest and passed away, leaving behind his wife and two children. An autopsy revealed epiglottitis as the cause of death. A medical malpractice suit was filed in the Alleghany Circuit Court, against the clinic and hospital. Plaintiff alleged the clinic failed to provide qualified physicians during the decedent’s visit and the Defendant hospital failed to properly supervise the physician’s assistant by permitting the assistant to diagnose without a physician present. Both Defendants were accused of failing to diagnose epiglottitis. The parties agreed to settle for a combined sum of $1,070,000.
Our law firm handles medical malpractice cases. Most of our case are in Maryland but at any given time we typically have a handful or so of cases in other jurisdictions. Many of our cases have involved infection misdiagnosis. If you or someone you love has been hurt or has died and you suspect a medical mistake is the cause, call us today at 800-553-8082 or click here for a free consultation.Other Hospital Infection Resources for Malpractice Lawyers and Victims
- Epiglottitis Infection Statistics
- Progress with epiglottitis since the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine
- Learn more about the challenges and opportunities in hospital infection cases
- C Difficile Malpractice/Nursing Home Cases (overview of claims)