When medical professionals make errors involving patient diagnosis, the results can be deadly. Diagnostic errors are among the leading causes for claims of medical malpractice. In 2016, approximately 110 Pennsylvania malpractices cases ended with a verdict following a trial. Of these verdicts, roughly 93 (84.5%) were in favor of the defense. One recently concluded case that defied these statistics was brought by Michelle Goldstein after her 32-day-old daughter's preventable death. A jury in Lancaster County awarded Goldstein $4 million in compensatory damages in a case where doctors at Lancaster Pediatric Associates failed to diagnose and treat the child's condition.
Basis for Claim
Lancaster Pediatric Associates is a provider that has served the region for over 35 years with locations in Lancaster and Willow Street, Pennsylvania. The mother and child had visited the facility several times and staff failed to diagnose the child's pertussis, also referred to as “whooping cough." The doctors named in the claim were C. Daniel Armstrong and Shakthi Kumar, in addition to Betsey Neumann, a nurse practitioner who had reached a settlement before the trial. Goldstein said she is optimistic that the verdict will increase awareness and provide hope for victims that “your voice can be heard.”
Whooping cough is a disease of the respiratory system caused by Bordetella bacteria that is very contagious. The condition often causes the victim to endure persistent coughing that makes breathing very difficult. While coughing, the victim often makes a “whooping” noise as they gasp for air. The best means of protection from the disease is through vaccination.
According to LNP Media Group, this $4 million award for compensatory damages is among the largest this year in medical malpractice cases in the county. Other sizable awards recently included $8.4 million for a birth-related injury case and $2.8 million for a hip replacement procedure that had a tragic outcome. Compensatory damages, also referred to as economic damages, are generally quantifiable in nature and commonly include medical bills, wage losses, and reduced future earnings. There is no cap (limit) in Pennsylvania for economic damages.
Failure to Diagnose
Recent data regarding diagnostic mistakes shows the following:
- Approximately 120,000 patients annually incur severe injuries or die in the U.S. due to errors in diagnosis.
- Errors in diagnosis are roughly attributed to 34% of malpractice-related disabilities and 40% of fatalities.
- Nearly 5% of patient diagnoses are believed to be inaccurate.
- Healthcare providers have a duty to maintain the tools and equipment needed to efficiently and accurately diagnose.
- Healthcare professionals must maintain the knowledge needed to identify and interpret symptoms, reports, and images that are involved in diagnostic practice.
- Often the error in diagnosis is simply failing to order appropriate testing or failing to review a patient's medical history or family medical history.
A defense attorney stated that the verdict is being reviewed and is likely to be appealed. Goldstein encouraged people to have their children vaccinated according to current clinical standards and said that her daughter was unfortunately not old enough to have received a vaccine to prevent her condition. Pertussis can be a problem for those of all ages; however, it is particularly dangerous for newborns.