The family of a man who died while being treated at a rural medical center for a sore throat was awarded $4.2 million in the settlement of a malpractice lawsuit.
In January 2013, the 32-year-old and father of three went to a rural Hawaii health center for treatment of a sore throat. He had stayed home with his sore throat for about a week. During that time, he had difficulty eating and suffered from fevers. When his vacation time ran out, he went back to work, where his employers advised him to seek medical attention, according to his wife.
At the emergency room, a doctor diagnosed the man with an abscess on his tonsils. Even though the doctor arranged for the patient to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, the emergency room physician decided to treat the man himself. Without an anesthesiologist present, the doctor sedated the patient and performed an unnecessary procedure. However, the doctor used too large a dose of the sedative. Because the patient's airway was narrowed by his swollen tonsils, he was unable to breath, became unconsciousness and died. In the lawsuit, the family's attorney argued that because the patient weighed almost 300 pounds, sedation would have made it difficult to maintain his airway.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is conducting a review of the doctor's treatment of the patient.
The health center implemented changes after the death, including hiring a new emergency room director overseeing operations and a full-time chief compliance officer who is an attorney.
According to a May study from Johns Hopkins Medicine, 10 percent of all deaths in the United States are due to medical error, making it the third highest cause of death in the country, surpassed only by heart disease and cancer.
In the case of the family from Hawaii, the federal government will pay the settlement because the center is a federally qualified community nonprofit health center insured by the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the federal government acts as a self-insurer and recognizes a liability for the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of its employees acting within the scope of their official duties. The United States is liable to the same extent an individual would be in like circumstances. The statute substitutes the United States as the defendant in such a suit and the United States—not the individual employee—bears any resulting liability.
In making a claim, the wronged individual must demonstrate that:
- Personal injury or property damage was by a federal government employee.
- The employee was acting within the scope of his official duties.
- The employee was acting negligently or wrongfully.
- The negligent or wrongful act proximately caused the injury or damage.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of another person or a company and were offered a paltry sum as compensation, you may be entitled to a larger award. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.