Patients aren’t expected to know when they’re in medical danger. That’s really the physician’s job to keep track of what is happening and spot things like an infection that’s spinning out of control. Just because the patient didn’t complain and draw the physician’s attention to a potential problem, doesn’t mean the physician is off the hook.
That’s the message a jury sent to doctors and hospitals in a recent Georgia lawsuit. A woman suffered what is likely permanent paralysis after a doctor failed to realize that an infection was spreading through her central nervous system.
The court apparently found the contention by the doctor and the hospital that they shouldn’t be liable for the woman’s injury because she hadn’t complained about pain at the site of the infection rather disingenuous. Pain is, after all, an incredibly subjective experience. What one person finds agonizing may hardly trouble another.
By all accounts, the woman actually had a number of serious medical problems when she arrived at the hospital for treatment. Her condition was described as life-threatening. That may also have affected her ability to know exactly what was “normal” for her situation and what was a cause for more serious concern — but it really wasn’t her responsibility as the patient to make that call.
Among her problems, the woman had an infection in her spine. When her overall condition improved and she was transferred out of ICU to a regular floor, it’s likely that the level of attention she received for her care suffered. The infection took over, and two days after she was transferred she could no longer get her legs to move. She’s since been moved to rehabilitation care and receives ongoing care — and faces a lifetime of more.
The considerable size of the award reflects not only the traumatic nature of her suffering but the money that she’ll probably need in the future in order to meet her medical and personal needs. Cases like this remind people that doctors are willing to push the responsibility for their medical mistakes onto patients whenever possible in order to try to avoid liability. In this case, it didn’t work — and it shouldn’t. Anyone suffering from medical malpractice injuries should always explore their legal options.
Source: Savannah Morning News, “Jury awards Savannah woman $18 million in medical malpractice,” Jan Skutch, March 08, 2018