November 28, 2007

Jury Awards $3 Million for Delay in Treating Infection Leading to Brain Damage

A jury in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania awarded Lynn and James Flaherty a total of $3 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Lynn Flaherty was treated for severe headaches by her physician, who prescribed only pain medications. The physician never prescribed any antibiotics for the sinus infection that was actually causing the headaches. Because the infection went untreated, it progressed and went into Ms. Flaherty's brain causing a brain abscess. The brain abscess required surgery and resulted in serious neurological problems, including interfering with Mrs. Flaherty's ability to reason, as well as emotional and behavioral disorders. Additionally, Ms. Flaherty, who is only 61, can no longer work as a real estate agent.

The trial lasted eight days in Allegheny County and the $3 million award must serve to fully compensate Mr. and Mrs Flaherty for the permanent brain injury, which will last her lifetime. A Physician's Assistant (P.A.) and two physicians were all found to be negligent. Part of the award was for Mr. Flaherty's loss of consortium, which is his marital relationship. This is a very large verdict for Allegheny County and represents and excetpional result for this family.

This case is a typical one concerning complications that can arise from a delay in properly treating an infection. In this case a common and easily treatable infection, sinusitis, was allowed to go untreated and resulted in a devastating brain abscess. I have personally represented clients who have had improperly treated infections that then progress to a brain abscess, including one case that resulted in a $5.5 million settlement in Philadelphia. If you or someone you know has had serious complications from an infection, you should immediately consult an experienced attorney to have the potential case evaluated.

November 11, 2007

MRSA infection results in $1.2 Million in Verdicts

Two Bucks County prison inmates were awarded a total of $1.2 million by a federal jury in Philadelphia for contracting flesh-eating bacteria (MRSA or methicillin-resistant staphlococcus aureus, also known as "staph"). After a six day trial, the jury found that both prisoners' civil rights were violated by being jailed in unsanitary conditions causing them to become becoming infected with dangerous bacteria of MRSA. The jury awarded $800,000 to one inmate and $400,000 to the second inmate, who developed serious staph infections on their skin and muscles, including their scrotum, and developed abscesses. MRSA is frequently a very destructive bacteria that can eat away at the skin and other tissues causing devastating injuries. This bacteria is resistant to most commonly used antibiotics and can be a very agressive infecttion resulting in permanent disability and death.

In 2002, 31 inmates tested poitive for MRSA infection at the Bucks County prison in Doylestown, Pennsylvania when a federal magistrate judge ordered over 1,000 prisoners to be tested for the infection. Problems surrounding MRSA infections have become numerous in institutions, including prisons, around the country. In Bucks County, their are still 17 additional court cases concerning prisoner MRSA infection that are pending with the Court. In the State of Delawarem there have also been complaints in the prisons surrounding MRSA infections and proper health care for prisoners.

This case was brought as a civil rights lawsuit, under section 1983, in federal court, because of the involvement of the state in running an unsanitary condition. There can also be cases involving MRSA infections for delay of diagnosis of this condition and not instituting approrpiate and timely medical care for the life-threatening infection. Such cases are usually brought in state court under medical malpractice theories.

October 1, 2007

Hospital Infections and Surgical Infections Cause Serious Injury and Death

Infections ocurring during a hospitalization kill 99,000 people every year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even more dramatically, these same statistics reveal that each year over 1.7 million people in the U.S. develop an infection as a complication of their hospitalization. Obviously, these infections, which can include staphylococcus ("staph"), often leave a patient far worse off after a hospitalization or surgery than they were before. These statistics show that in cases where a patient dies or is paralyzed from an infection following surgery (some types of infections can result in abscesses that can impinge nerves) or requires surgery or other lengthy treatment, it is not unreasonable to have an experienced medical malpratice attorney review the the medical records to determine if the hospital used the proper antibiotcs and adhered to infection-control measures.

Infection cases are not necessarily easy to prove. In surgical cases alone there are three widely-accepted infection-control measures that need to be evaluated: (1) were preventative antibiotics given in the hour before surgery; (2) was the right antibiotic chosen; and (3) when was the antibiotic stopped after surgery. Infection rates are lower in patients who receive the correct antibiotic for their situation during the hour prior to surgery. However, if the antibiotic is continued more than 24 hours after surgery, the patient can develop bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, which means that if the patient were to develop an infection, it would be more dangerous than if the patient had never recieved the antibiotics.

If you are reading this and are getting ready to be hospitalized or have a surgery, you are probably wondering how you can be sure your hospital takes the steps necessary to reduce infections. I suggest looking at the hospital comparison website of The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is a government agency that, among other fuctions, tracks infections at hospitals across the country. The CMS website allows the public to see safety data for hospitals, to include information on infection prevention measures. For instance, by using this website, you can learn how many Philadelphia hospitals, such as Albert Einstein Medical Center, Hahnemann University Hospital, Hospital of University of Pennsylvania ("HUP"), Temple University Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, performed in 2006 relative to the state and national averages. In general, these 5 hospitals did well when compared to the national and state averages in the three infection-control measures. I would encourage anyone who is going to have surgery (especially an elective procedure where you have the time to conduct research on the facility you want to operate on you) to look at the data on infection control measures. Some hospitals nationwide fall far below the national average and given that infections can be fatal, these statistics really can be a life-saver.