A prominent New York City trial law firm recently obtained a verdict in a medical malpractice case. The trial illustrated the type of systemic failure that we see all too frequently at urban hospitals.
“Lorena”, a 57-year old housekeeper from Brooklyn was admitted to a local hospital for an irregular heart beat. At the hospital, she was given blood-thinning medications to prevent abnormal clotting, something an irregular heartbeat can cause. This was appropriate as blood clots put a patient at risk for strokes, heart attacks and lung injury. Blood thinners carry their own risk of injury, however, including internal bleeding. If a doctor decides to administer blood thinners, that doctor must monitor the patient’s blood count carefully.
In Lorena’s case, she was given what might be called an “overdose” of blood thinners. Unmonitored, she began to have a spontaneous internal bleed within her stomach. The signs and symptoms were in clear view: Lorena was moaning in pain; unable to walk; and delirious. Furthermore, her blood count results were consistent with an internal bleed. Despite these “red flags,” no nurse or doctor at the hospital noticed.
Incredibly, even with all of these warnings, the attending physician discharged her from the hospital with additional prescriptions for blood thinners!
The day after Lorena’s discharge, a visiting nurse came to her home and quickly recognized the severity of her condition. The visiting nurse did what she could, and called an ambulance immediately. By that point, it was clear that Lorena was dying a slow death. The internal hemorrhaging was so bad that it may be compared to a gunshot wound in the stomach. Lorena was rushed to the hospital, but she went into cardiopulmonary arrest and died.
During the trial of the medical malpractice case, no one from the hospital took responsibility for his or her conduct. All of those involved pointed fingers: the hospital blamed the doctor; the doctor blamed the residents; and the residents blamed the hospital. From a legal point of view, it was the attending doctor’s responsibility to evaluate Lorena’s lab results and to order the appropriate treatment. An attending nurse was called to testify at trial, and described a common scenario: Lorena was rushed out of the hospital, like many patients, because beds were needed for new patients. In this instance, this dynamic ended with dire results. The attorney representing Lorena’s family likened this level of medical negligence to murder. The jury agreed, and sent a message to the doctor, insurance companies, and hospital with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff’s family for her avoidable and wrongful death.