MEDICAL MALPRACTICE AND PERSONAL INJURY LAW BLOG

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Is Medical Malpractice a Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.?

Medical malpractice is a leading cause of death in the United States. Recent studies have shown that medical errors are accountable for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, just in the U.S. The exact number of malpractice deaths is difficult to track down because there is no mandatory reporting system in place for medical error injuries. 

Not all medical mistakes end in death. Some medical injuries cause permanent damage, severe pain, disfigurement, or disability. Dealing with a medical malpractice injury can be a life-long struggle. It is important to hold the medical industry accountable for their mistakes to help improve patient care for others. 

If you suffered an injury because of medical malpractice, talk to experienced trial attorneys about your case. Your medical malpractice law firm can help you understand your options and help you recover money to pay for your losses.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice can be described as any act or omission by a physician caring for a patient that deviates from accepted standards of medical care in the medical community, which causes an injury to the patient. 

For example, a doctor reviews your blood work and there are abnormal signs that may indicate a serious infection but the doctor sends you home anyway. As a result, you suffer infection shock and are hospitalized for a few days and treated until your recovery, suffering serious pain, inability to work, and racking up hospital bills. If the standard practice of other doctors in the same situation would be to treat the patient and not send them home, then the doctor may have committed medical malpractice. 

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the injured patient has to show that the doctor acted negligently in causing the patient’s injuries. This requires proving four elements

  1. The doctor owed a professional duty of care to the patient; 
  2. There was a breach of the duty of care; 
  3. The patient’s injury was caused by the breach; and 
  4. The patient suffered damages as a result. 

If the patient can demonstrate the elements are more likely than not satisfied, then the patient can recover money for their damages. Damages in a medical malpractice claim can include medical bills, loss of income, future medical care costs, and pain and suffering.    

How Common is Medical Malpractice in the U.S.? 

One of the problems with tracking medical malpractice in the U.S. is that it is not always reported. Many causes of medical errors go undetected because the doctor didn’t let the patient know the injury was caused by their mistake. Other patients may die and there is no one alive to take their case to court. 

According to one study by Johns Hopkins researchers, more than 250,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are caused by medical malpractice. Researchers reviewed medical error data over an 8-year period and compared it to the commonly listed causes of death in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks causes of death categorized by using an International Classification of Disease (ICD) code. However, medical mistakes is not a listed category.

With over 250,000 malpractice deaths each year, medical mistakes can be considered the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer. However, an earlier study published in the Journal of Patient Study found the number of deaths due to preventable mistakes was even higher, at about 400,000 people per year.

Leading Causes of Death in the United States

The CDC tracks the leading causes of death in the U.S., based on the reported categories. For the year 2020, the CDC found the following top 10 leading causes of death in America. 

  1. Heart disease: 696,962
  2. Cancer: 602,350
  3. COVID-19: 350,831
  4. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 200,955
  5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 160,264
  6. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 152,657
  7. Alzheimer’s disease: 134,242
  8. Diabetes: 102,188
  9. Influenza and pneumonia: 53,544
  10. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 52,547

If the medical malpractice researchers’ estimates are correct, medical errors would be somewhere between the 3rd or 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.

The mortality figures change every year but cancer and heart disease are regularly the top two causes of death. COVID-19 deaths were a new category as the novel coronavirus was not detected until 2019. Overall life expectancy in the U.S. fell from 2019 to 2020 by 1.8 years. 

The CDC bases these findings on categories of death from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). For 2019, there were 113 selected causes of death, including everything from Salmonella infections to operations of war. 

The CDC numbers can also include looking at death rates for people based on different states, mortality by age, race and ethnicity, marital status, and even urban versus rural areas. For example, in 2018, Hawaii and California had the highest life expectancy at birth at 81 years and 80.8 years. Mississippi and West Virginia had the lowest life expectancy of 74.6 years and 74.4 years.

Infant Mortality Causes of Death in the United States

The CDC also reports infant mortality and the leading causes of infant death in the U.S. This is a difficult subject to consider but the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is still higher than in many other developed countries, especially for poorer women and women of color. For the year 2020, the CDC found the following top 10 leading causes of infant death in America. 

  1. Birth defects
  2. Preterm birth and low birth weight
  3. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  4. Injuries (such as suffocation)
  5. Maternal pregnancy complications

In 2019, Black, Native Americans, and Hispanic people had a higher pregnancy-related death rate compared to Non-Hispanic White and Asian people. In 2019, infant mortality rates per 100,000 live births by race and ethnicity were:

  • Non-Hispanic Black: 10.6
  • Non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander: 8.2
  • Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native: 7.9
  • Hispanic: 5.0
  • Non-Hispanic white: 4.5
  • Non-Hispanic Asian: 3.4

The infant mortality rates also varied greatly by state, with states in the southern U.S. having higher rates. The states with the highest pregnancy-related death rates were Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Virginia. The states with the lowest infant death rates were Vermont, California, and Massachusetts.

What Causes So Many Medical Errors?

There are many potential causes of medical errors, not just bad doctors. The study researchers found that most errors involved systemic problems in health care. These problems include: include: 

  • Lack of systemic safety nets
  • Poorly coordinated care
  • Fragmented insurance networks and unequal coverage
  • Lack of accountability
  • Unnecessary variation in physician practice patterns 

Based on these studies, medical malpractice is a leading cause of death in the U.S. However, others dispute these numbers. Many hospitals, doctors, insurance groups, and the healthcare industry may try and downplay the risks of a serious medical error. One of the problems is that the actual number is very difficult to track down. Many medical errors go unreported. There is also a lack of a mandatory system to track and share malpractice information across all hospitals and health care agencies. 

Even if an injury victim does file a medical malpractice lawsuit, as part of a settlement offer, the doctor may refuse to admit fault for causing the injury, instead paying money to settle the claim. Even if the patient had a good chance of the jury finding medical errors causing the injury, a settlement allows the doctor to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. 

Which Medical Care Has the Most Malpractice Deaths?

Any type of medical care can involve medical mistakes. Medical malpractice can occur during intense invasive surgical procedures or even when prescribing a common medication. Some of the most serious medical malpractice cases involve the serious injury or death of a baby during delivery. 

Medical errors can happen at any time during treatment or medical care. Some of the top causes of medical malpractice include: 

How Can I Tell If My Family Member Died Because of Malpractice?

It can be very difficult to find out if a family member died because of a standard risk of the treatment or because the medical team made a mistake. Doctors rarely admit to making a mistake. In some cases, apologizing cannot be used as evidence of negligence. So why do so many doctors refuse to say they messed up? A university study actually found that when the doctors and hospitals were more open and cooperative after a medical error, it improved outcomes and even reduced medical malpractice costs.  

If a family member went into the hospital for care and died shortly after, there may be some signs that this was not just a standard health risk. There may be signs of medical malpractice, which could include:

  • The patient and family were never properly informed of the risks of the procedure.
  • The doctor did not get the informed consent of the patient. 
  • The patient’s health condition continued to deteriorate even with treatment.
  • Different medical diagnoses by different doctors.
  • Lack of medical staff and nurses. 
  • Injured because of a fall or injury in the hospital.
  • Medical records don’t line up with what the doctor or hospital said.

Example of Lack of Informed Consent

Informed consent means that the doctor informs the patient about the risks and benefits of treatment and the patient can decide whether to consent to treatment or not. Even though this seems like common sense and a simple process, some doctors regularly fail to get proper informed consent, which requires:

  • Understanding the nature of the treatment 
  • Understanding the risks involved
  • Understanding the benefits of treatment
  • Other treatment alternatives

A doctor may oversell the benefits and downplay the risks. For example, if a doctor tells the patient that this is a routine surgical procedure and the patient doesn’t have anything to worry about, that may sound comforting to the patient but it doesn’t give them any actual information about what could go wrong. Any surgical procedure carries some risk. Common risks of surgery include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Anesthesia complications
  • Scarring
  • Death

If your family was getting surgery performed and died in the hospital or shortly after, if the doctor didn’t explain the serious risk of injury or death to the patient, there may have been a problem with lack of informed consent. To prove negligence in a medical malpractice case, the deceased patient’s family must show there was a duty of care, the doctor deviated from the standard of care, the breach caused the injury, which resulted in death.

What Happened In Your Case?

These situations are not necessarily proof of a medical error but they could indicate that you may have a claim and should talk to an experienced medical malpractice law firm about your case. Medical malpractice lawyers who practice in this legal field have an in-depth understanding about medical errors and are familiar with common malpractice situations. 

Medical malpractice lawyers also often offer a free consultation, which means there is no obligation on your part. During an initial consultation, you can discuss what happened to your family member and get more information about your rights and legal options. The attorney may also be able to get a medical expert to review your case and help identify any deviations from the standard of care that caused the fatal injuries. 

Medical Malpractice Legal Help After a Fatal Medical Injury

Don’t wait too long to get help after a loved one died from a medical injury. Each state has a  statute of limitations that limits the amount of time a family has to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If you file your case even one day too late, you may not be able to hold the doctors and hospital responsible. 

For example, if your loved one suffered a medical malpractice injury in Chicago, a wrongful death claim has to be filed within 2 years from the date of death. In Illinois, a wrongful death claim must be filed by the personal representative of the deceased victim’s estate.

A wrongful death lawsuit can help your family recover money for medical bills, burial expenses, and even help you get money for loss of support and loss of benefits. If you want to find out about your case, contact an experienced legal defense team for a case evaluation. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.

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