Patients who agree to undergo surgery place themselves in highly vulnerable positions. Often the patient is entirely unconscious during surgery. The patient must place enormous amounts of trust in the surgeon, anesthesiologist, surgical technicians, post-operative nursing staff, and the medical facility as a whole. Because of this trust, surgical facilities must be especially cautious in the treatment of their patients. Failure to exercise due care can—and almost does—lead to a surgical team or facility being found negligent. Victims of negligent medical treatment have the legal right to be compensated for their injuries and losses. An experienced Charleston medical malpractice attorney can help victims of surgical errors protect their legal rights.
The Legal Standard for Medical Providers in South Carolina
Each state enacts its own standards of care for doctors, surgeons, and other providers of medical care. Section 15-79-110 of the South Carolina Code of Laws sets the standard of care as that which the reasonably prudent health care provider or institution would do in similar circumstances. Doing something the reasonably prudent provider would not—or failing to do something the reasonably prudent provider would—is defined as medical malpractice by South Carolina law.
A medical malpractice case begins by filing a claim with the negligent provider or institution’s liability insurance carrier. The insurance company will then conduct its own investigation to determine whether or not medical negligence occurred. If the insurance carrier agrees that the provider or institution was negligent, it will accept liability, and the parties can begin to negotiate the value of the victim’s claim. If the insurance company does not accept liability, the victim is often forced to file a lawsuit in order to let a jury determine whether the medical provider or institution was negligent.
Surgical Errors in the News
Sadly, surgical errors are not rare. Cases involving celebrities or particularly egregious conduct—sometimes both—are often in the news. This was the case when comedian Joan Rivers died as the result of a botched endoscopy in 2014. The relatively minor procedure was performed at an outpatient clinic in New York City. Unfortunately, Rivers went into cardiac arrest during the procedure, then remained in a coma for a week before dying. Investigations by health authorities determined that the clinic had failed to identify Rivers’s deteriorating vital signs. Rivers’s surviving family filed suit, according to USA Today.
In Fresno, California, a jury found a heart surgeon negligent for leaving the operating room in the middle of a complex cardiac procedure. The surgeon let a physician assistant (with whom he’d allegedly had an affair) close the surgical site while he left for a business meeting at a local restaurant. The patient then lost blood and went into a coma. The coma still persists six years after the botched surgery. Now, according to the Fresno Bee, the surgeon faces the possibility of paying the patient’s family additional punitive damages if it finds convincing evidence of past safety violations.
Of course, surgical errors need not prove egregious or splashy to constitute negligence—as in the untimely death of actor Bill Paxton. CNN reports that Paxton died days after undergoing heart surgery. His family has sued the surgeon who performed the procedure, alleging that he used a “high risk and unconventional surgical approach with which he lacked experience.” If a jury finds that a reasonably prudent surgeon would not have used such a risky procedure, the doctor could indeed face liability.
Sometimes a lack of surgery can also constitute malpractice. According to The State, this caused a Richland County jury to award a $10 million malpractice verdict against one South Carolina doctor. The doctor had noticed a growth on the patient’s left kidney. He recommended that she follow up in six months, but she returned in four due to the pain it caused her. This resulted in a radiologist concluding that the doctor should follow up to rule out malignancy (active cancer growth). The doctor did not. Rather, he waited almost a year before ordering a repeat scan of the kidney. By this time the cancer had grown too advanced. The patient died just four months later. The State interviewed a patient safety advocate, who noted that such a high award was unusual. “The jury was really trying to send a message that doctors need to take more care in following up on patient symptoms,” she concluded.
Liability for Medical Facilities Which Negligently Hire Dangerous Doctors
Individual medical providers are not the only ones who can be held liable for medical malpractice. Medical facilities can also face vicarious liability for the negligence of its employees (including doctors) or direct liability for their own negligence in hiring unsafe doctors. Trib Live reports on an investigation with found that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs knowingly hired doctors with past medical malpractice claims and disciplinary actions for poor patient care. One neurosurgeon had a dozen medical malpractice claims across two states—one of which eventually revoked his medical license as a result of a patient’s death. He disclosed this history on his application to work for the VA in Iowa. The VA hired him unconditionally.
Another case revealed even more egregious and intentional misconduct by a colorectal surgeon in Cleveland. According to WKYC, the surgeon was accused of anally raping two women during alleged rectal exams. The women received confidential settlements from the clinic that employed the surgeon. Yet when he went to work at another facility, his new employer knew of the claims and kept him on staff while the claims were investigated. It is unknown how many other patients were knowingly subjected to criminal sexual assault while confidential settlement agreements were reached to keep the stories away from the public.
Call Us Today to Speak with a Charleston Medical Malpractice Lawyer
When surgical errors occur, it is important to hold negligent medical providers accountable for their actions in order to prevent similar injuries to other innocent patients. The Hughey Law Firm helps medical malpractice victims access compensation for the losses they sustain as a result of negligent healthcare. Call (843) 881-8644 today or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.