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In 2002, baby Ira Faustino died after having heart surgery performed by Dr. William I. Norwood at duPont Hospital for Children. In 2005 Ira’s parents filed a medical malpractice suit after learning for the first time that Ira suffered brain damage as the result of allegedly negligent conduct by Dr. Norwood during the surgery. The Faustinos claim that it was not until Dr. Norwood was fired from duPont in 2005 amidst heavy media coverage that they learned that Dr. Norwood had allegedly been performing experimental surgeries on critically ill children in an attempt to develop a new surgical procedure for heart problems. Only after the media coverage revealed apparent problems with Dr. Norwood’s techniques did the Faustinos learn that Dr. Norwood had used an unconventional cooling method on Ira to prepare him for surgery and then fraudulently concealed that fact from his parents after he died. It is alleged that Dr. Norwood used an untested cooling method that cooled the body more quickly than standard methods, but resulted in seizures and brain damage in some patients. Because Dr. Norwood allegedly did not tell the hospital or parents of patients that he was not cooling patients in a traditional manner, it was never suggested to the Faustinos that this aspect of the surgery could have been the cause of Ira’s death. The Faustinos allege that if they had known at the time that Ira died that Dr. Norwood had used the unconventional cooling technique and that Ira suffered brain damage thereafter, they would have filed suit sooner and not allowed the 2 year statute of limitations to expire.

duPont and Dr. Norwood are asking the Court to punish the Faustinos’ attorney for filing the lawsuit, arguing that she knew it was frivolous because the statute of limitations had clearly expired before it was filed. In support of their argument, duPont and Dr. Norwood allege that the Faustinos knew immediately after Ira’s death that he died from fluid in the lungs, which is a common complication of the surgery he had. Further, duPont and Dr. Norwood argue that the Faustinos were told that Ira died from “complications of surgery,” which they assert demonstrates there was no overt act of fraudulent concealment as required by Pennsylvania law to extend the statute of limitations. The Faustinos, on the other hand, argue that duPont and Dr. Norwood’s failure to advise them that an unconventional cooling method was used on Ira during surgery was an overt act of fraudulent concealment.

This case demonstrates that complex issues, both legal and medical, that can arise in medical malpractice cases. The assistance of an experienced attorney who is willing to explore all available legal theories is crucial to success in this complicated area of the law.

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Drug manufacturers of infant cold medicines such as Dimetapp, PediaCare, Tylenol, Triaminic and Robitussin have pulled these medications from stores following reported child deaths from overdoses. The manufacturers continue to assert that these medications are safe when used as directed on the packaging, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”) disagrees. The AAP has taken the position that over-the-counter cold and cough medicines don’t work in very young children (under the age of 6) and present risks for babies and pre-school age children.

Children’s cold remedies accounted for approximately 8% of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines sold in the United States. Notwithstanding the popularity of these drugs, the Centers of Disease Control Prevention reported that in 2004 and 2005 approximately 1,500 children under the age of 2 experienced complications to include heart problems, convulsions, neurologic complications and trouble breathing, as well as other symptoms. Of these 1,500 children, there were 54 deaths in children who used decongestants and 69 deaths in children who used antihistamines.

The AAP advises parents to stick with remedies such as salt-water nose drops, suctioning infants’ noses of mucus, fluids and rest. Pediatricians point out that coughing is good for the body because it clears out the lungs and low level fevers are actually helpful because they fight infection, so suppressing these symptoms may do more harm than good. It is possible that these medications, or similar ones, will be back on the market with more specific labels about dosing and usage, but until then parents need to prepare themselves to work harder to ease the symptoms experienced by little ones just as cold season begins.

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LASIK eye surgery can cause extremely dry eyes, blurry vision and difficulty with night driving, leaving patients with excruciating facial pain, worse vision than before the surgery, and visual distortion (including halos, glare and seeing multiple objects). At the extreme, complications include eye bulging and blindness, especially in patients with thin corneas (which are found in approximately 10% of Americans). These complications can result in the need for goggles that help with eye moisture, as well as expensive eye drops and special contact lenses. Some patients have reported spending as much as $500 per month on treatments for their LASIK complications.

Ideally, doctors and facilities that perform this procedure screen patients for risk factors and ensure that only physicians provide surgical care. Unfortunately, many facilities perform this “private pay” procedure (not covered by insurance) in bulk rather than on carefully-selected patients and some facilities use non-physicians for much of the care received by the patient. Moreover, some surgeons perform the procedure at the referral of optometrists, who are not physicians, but who nonethless perform the risk-factor screening and provide follow-up care for the patient. In some cases, referring optometrists receive a referral fee from the surgeon, decreasing the incentive for screening out patients who may not be good surgical candidates.

Because LASIK involves cutting and reshaping the cornea, some research has suggested that the cornea becomes permanently weakened after the surgery and that the nerves severed during the surgery never recover or take years to recover. Complications from LASIK can occur because of problems with the laser or other equipiment used during the procedure, physician error in screening patients for risk factors or in performing the procedure itself, or from poor treatment by non-physician providers involved in the surgery.

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People who suffer serious injuries, including permanent disabilities, cancer, nerve damage, brain damage, cerebral palsy, surgical complications or death from medical errors should consider having their situation reviewed by an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Before speaking to an attorney, it is helpful to understand some basic information concerning the law and the legal issues involved in bringing medical malpractice cases.

Every medical malpractice case, including those in Pennsylvania, requires that an injured person (the plaintiff) prove four basic criteria. First, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the physician, nurse or other health care provider had a “duty” to the plaintiff. That means that the plaintiff was under the care of the health care provider. This criterion is rarely disputed and is generally easy to prove. Second, the plaintiff must prove, through expert medical testimony, that the health care provider “deviated from the proper standard of care” in his or her treatment. Third, the injured person must prove that the health care provider’s deviation form the standard of care was a “cause” of the plaintiff’s injuries. Finally, the plaintiff must be able to demonstrate that he or she actually suffered injury.

Although the plaintiff has the burden to prove each of the four criteria discussed above, this legal burden is only to a standard of “more likely than not,” which is substantially less than the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Nevertheless, the plaintiff’s burden of proof means that he or she must hire medical experts who are willing to stard up during trial and publicly testify against their colleagues. These medical experts are expensive and must be hired long before the case ever sees the inside of a court room.

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