There is increased media attention on infections in hospitals. Infections have been a problem in hospitals since the first hospital opened during the Middle Ages. Today, medical mistake claims often arise not directly from the medical treatment the patient receives but because of an infection developed either in the course of treatment or from some other cause.
The severity of the infection problem is stunning: the CDC says that hospital infections kill 90,000 people annually. Infections result in an estimated 205,000 additional hospital days for infected patients and $2 billion in hospital charges. Of course, hospital infections are just part of the problem. There are more than 750,000 fatalities every year in this country from sepsis alone. These numbers just roll off. But stop and think about it for a second. They are mind-boggling.
Who is most at risk? The elderly, small children, and people with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk of severe injury or death.What Happens to the Body During an Infection?
When the body gets an infection, it does what the body does well: it fights. Chemicals are released to ward off the infection. The problem is that this causes systemic inflammation that can cause small blood clots, blocking oxygen and critical nutrients from reaching key organs in the body. The infection can then lead to septic shock. As sepsis worsens and further develops into septic shock, blood pressure significantly decreases, which often leads to respiratory, heart, and other organ failures that can lead to death. A corollary risk is a gangrene that can lead to amputation of the arms, fingers, legs, feet, and other appendages.
The key to surviving a severe infection, and stopping the disease in its tracks before it can cause this kind of damage, is early diagnosis and treatment.What Type of Infection Cases Lead to Lawsuits
Hospitals and other health care providers negligently cause infections in massive numbers. This is not plaintiffs' attorneys' propaganda. It is demonstrably true. Hospitals have widely varying rates of infection. Why? Because some hospitals have fail-safe procedures that lead to a very low rate of infection and others do not. The infections are caused by negligence, often from the failure to follow proper sterilization procedures such as failure to properly hand wash, an unclean hospital, or improper sterilization for patients who receive catheters or are put on ventilators.
Still, "the hospital infected me" cases are a minority of successful infection lawsuits. Why? Because how an infection was caused and whether it could have been prevented are tough for plaintiffs to prove. The most commonly successful lawsuit involving infections are the failure to diagnose promptly and treat the infection, not the fact that the patient was infected in the first place.
Certainly, there are a lot of medical malpractice cases involving infection of newborns. This is because so much is at stake in the early minutes, hours and days of life. Injuries we adults can shake off can cause lifelong injuries or death to infants. If the infection in an infant is not correctly diagnosed and treated, bacteria can attack the body and cause a host of problems. The greatest risk involves ailments that lead to a lack of blood and oxygen.
These infections can begin even before the child is born. Neonatal sepsis can stem from water breaking (usually when it lasts longer than 24 hours before birth), membranes, or amniotic sac water bag, necrotizing enterocolitis, Group B streptococcus infection, and a whole host of other things. You can find the answers to these things with a blood culture, C-reactive protein, or complete blood count (CBC). The bottom line is that an infant -- particularly premature babies - are particularly susceptible to sepsis and other infections. So immediate diagnosis and treatment is critical.Where the Mistakes Happen
Most infection lawsuits in Maryland are not based on causing the infections but the failure to treat the problem correctly. Infections and fevers of unknown origin are common emergency room diagnostic problems. The following are common infection cases that are misdiagnosed in the ER that leads to medical negligence suits:
- 2014, Wisconsin: $25.3 Million. A 53-year-old mother of four children lost all of her limbs because a Strep A infection was misdiagnosed. The infection led to septic shock. Damage caused by the infection led to the amputations. The woman was hospitalized for nine hours with severe abdominal pain and fever but was discharged and told to call her gynecologist because they suspected a problem with her fibroid. The jury awarded $15 million in pain and suffering.
- 2013, Maryland: $1,341,000 Verdict: A 77-year-old woman was transported to Frederick Memorial Hospital after she injured her back in a fall. A CT scan was ordered, and the radiologist determined findings of a fracture of at least one vertebrae. During her hospitalization, she began to experience a loss of all feeling in her lower extremities. She was transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center for spinal fusion surgery. She developed a staph infection at the surgical site and passed away three months later from complications from the infection. Her daughter sued the treating physician and radiologist at Frederick Memorial Hospital for medical malpractice. Plaintiff alleged the radiologist failed to report the findings and did not recommend the decedent remain immobilized during her hospitalization. The radiologist claimed that the results had been reported to the decedent. Defendant physician claimed that, regardless of the decedent not being immobilized, the surgery would have happened and that a post-operative infection could result from any surgery. A Frederick County jury found Defendant radiologist 100% responsible and awarded the Plaintiff $1,341,000 in damages.
- 2013, California: $543,034 Verdict: A 64-year-old baker underwent a right knee arthroscopy at Coastal Surgical Institute. Three days later, he returned with complaints of fever and severe pain. Shortly after that he went to the emergency room at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center where he underwent additional surgery and antibiotic treatment for a Pseudomonas aeruginosin bacterial infection. He eventually required a total knee replacement, and one year later, the hardware in the knee had to be replaced. Regrettably, he can no longer walk long distances unassisted. He filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Coastal Surgical claiming the Defendant used unclean surgical instruments. Plaintiff claimed that he contracted an infection from an improperly sterilized arthroscope and - this is key - that three other patients who received treatment during the same time frame contracted the same infection. Defendant denied liability, alleging that the contamination must have been from the sponges used to clean the surgical instruments. A San Luis jury found the Defendant negligent and awarded the Plaintiff $543,034 in damages.
- 2013, Maryland: $9,500,000 Verdict: Parents of a 2-week old daughter were concerned after they had noticed she had missed several feedings and appeared to be short of breath. They brought her to the emergency room at Laurel Regional Hospital where blood tests were conducted, and an on-call pediatrician was consulted. Before obtaining the blood test results, the infant was discharged, and the parents were advised to follow up with their pediatrician. Over 24 hours had passed before the parents were notified that the test results showed Group B streptococcus. Treatment began immediately, but unfortunately, the infant developed meningitis. She suffered irreparable brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy. Her parents sued the employer of the emergency room doctor, Maryland Provo-I Medical Services, and a hospital employee for medical malpractice. Plaintiffs claimed that the defendant failed to inform timely the infant’s parents of their child’s diagnosis and failed to treat timely and diagnose the infection. Defendants denied liability, claiming that all care was reasonable and appropriately executed. The arguments were presented to a Prince George’s County jury where they found for the Plaintiff for $9,500,000. The award was reduced to $7,150,000 due to Maryland's cap of $650,000 for non-economic damages.
- 2011, New York: $3,250,000 Verdict: A 47-year-old secretary visited the emergency room of St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center with complaints of diarrhea and pain in her abdomen. She was referred to a surgeon who found that she was suffering from an abscess in her pelvic region. Removal of her sigmoid colon was recommended. A week following her surgery, an infection on her surgical site was diagnosed, and she was given antibiotics. She was referred to another surgeon at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center. The second surgeon obtained a culture of the infected area and reported a finding of a staph infection. For the following four months, the infection worsened and required at least three surgeries, on top of extensive treatment. The woman sued both surgeons for medical malpractice. Plaintiff alleged the Defendant Surgeon 1 failed to adequately perform the surgery on her colon. She alleged Defendant Surgeon 2 did not adequately address the infection by choosing not to prescribe antibiotics. Plaintiff’s counsel claimed the wound should have been drained and an infectious-diseases specialist should have been consulted. A Suffolk jury found the Defendants departed from the standard of care and awarded the Plaintiff $3,250,000 in damages.
- 2010, New York: $ 500,000 Verdict: A 61-year-old woman underwent multiple procedures to repair a bunion and hammer toes on her right foot. Two weeks after the surgery, she visited a podiatrist for a postoperative visit. During her visit, her foot was noted for being swollen and red with discharge. She was prescribed an antibiotic. She returned the following week with yellow discharge and blisters along the suture on her foot. A culture was performed. The wound was diagnosed as having been infected, and she was prescribed a different antibiotic. Two weeks later, as her symptoms worsened to discoloration and raised skin temperature, she was referred to Huntington Hospital. She was diagnosed with osteomyelitis and underwent surgery to clean out the necrotic bone. She sued the podiatrist who performed her initial surgery as well as the podiatrist who conducted her postoperative consults. Plaintiff claimed the Defendants failed to perform appropriate tests to rule out infection. Plaintiff’s expert podiatrist testified that a culture should have been performed which would have indicated infection. Defendants argued that Plaintiff’s symptoms were not caused by infection but by her banging her foot. A Nassau jury found the podiatrist conducting the postoperative visits 100% liable and awarded the Plaintiff $500,000.
These are sample settlements and verdicts that were favorable to plaintiffs. These are the winners. We stepped over some defense verdicts in putting this list together.
These verdicts should be a tool in understanding the value of these cases. But you cannot use these results to predict the settlement or trial value of any individual case. It would be an easier world if we could just grab a prior result and say the case is a sure winner and worth X. But the real world is much more complicated.Staph Infections
Many staph infections can also occur outside of a hospital setting. The challenge for doctors is to differentiate between MRSA and a more routine staph infection because detection of a MRSA staph infection is not possible based on physical examination alone.Hiring a Lawyer for Your Maryland Infection Claim
We handle hospital malpractice cases, including those involving infections. If you have been injured as the result of medical or hospital malpractice or negligence, call us 800-553-8082 or click here for a free consultation.Other Hospital Infection Resources for Malpractice Lawyers and Victims
- CDC statistics that show just how daunting the problem is
- Osteomyelitis: dangerous bone infections
- Learn more about sepsis misdiagnosis lawsuits
- Take a look at a sample sepsis wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2016 in Montgomery County
- A 2018 amputation case following a MRSA infection in U.S. District Court
- Hospital Negligence: how these cases are fought and a look at Maryland hospitals
- Maryland Medical Malpractice Claims: every state is different -- Maryland has a lot of unique laws and conditions you must meet to make a claim
- Emergency Room Negligence: common malpractice arena
- Frequently Asked Malpractice Questions