Going to the hospital can be an unsettling experience. There are many ways treatment can go wrong and result in serious injury or death. Medical conditions can be misdiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed, wrong prescriptions or doses can be prescribed, and surgical errors can occur. When these mistakes happen and a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed against a doctor and hospital, the trier of fact must determine three elements in order to decide whether or not medical malpractice occurred, which often requires a careful examination of a doctor’s standard of care.
In a recent case heard by the Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit, Crockham v. Thompson, a woman filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against her mother’s doctor and hospital after her mother died from a brain hemorrhage induced by high blood pressure. According to the lawsuit, the mother had been paraplegic for 20 years and often suffered from bowel blockages. In this instance, the woman went to the hospital to have a blockage removed, but failed to get better after the operation was completed. The plaintiff took her mother back to the hospital where she was given oral medication for her high blood pressure, but she later suffered the stroke and her family chose to take her off life support.
In her wrongful death claim against the doctor, the plaintiff in this case claimed the doctor breached his duty of care to the deceased. The plaintiff claimed the blood pressure medication should have been given intravenously rather than by pill because the pill would have bypassed her mother’s non-functioning bowel. Also, the plaintiff suggested the standard of care had been breached because the doctor failed to make his daily round in the morning, failed to admit the patient to the ICU, and failed to develop a cardiovascular profile for the patient. The plaintiff supported her argument with the fact that the hospital’s medical board had found the doctor breached the standard of care. However, at trial, a jury found for the doctor and denied the plaintiff compensation. The Court of Appeal affirmed.
For a medical malpractice case to succeed, several factors must be proven. First, a duty of care must be proven and the standard of care must be established. Then, a plaintiff must show there was a breach of that duty of care and injuries resulted. If these elements can be established, then the plaintiff may receive compensation that can be used to pay medical expenses, lost wages, and compensate for pain and suffering. Yet, proving all of these elements can be quite difficult.
The reason why the ruling in Crockham v. Thompson was upheld is because the standard of care was properly assessed. Medical professionals are not held to a standard of absolute precision. Instead, doctors’ actions are evaluated by their reasonableness under the circumstances so long as they are in line with the knowledge and skill held under the ordinary care exercised by other licensed physicians in Louisiana. If the doctor is a professional, then the standard of care is evaluated based on the knowledge, skill, and reasonableness of an ordinary specialist in that field. After hearing testimony from several expert witnesses, the jury found the testimony of a family practice instructor at LSU to be persuasive. That testimony stated that the doctor gave the patient oral medication because the bowel blockage had been removed, the bowels sounded like they were working, a doctor’s daily rounds do not have to occur in the morning, and the medication created drops in the patient’s blood pressure thus alleviating the need to admit her to the ICU.
In many medical malpractice cases, expert witnesses are necessary to establish the standard of care and to evaluate whether or not that standard was upheld. An experienced attorney can help a client find reputable experts who will support his case.
If you have been injured by a medical act or omission, please contact the Berniard Law Firm.