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Pittsburgh Personal Injury Law Blog

Mother awarded $6.5M for negligence that caused son’s brain injury

Cerebral palsy is not a birth defect; rather it occurs after a traumatic brain injury during birth. In other words: it is preventable. This is what a first-time mother learned after researching the condition that doctors told her that her newborn son would probably suffer from cerebral palsy.

The boy, now 5 years old, can neither speak nor walk and requires a feeding tube. It is alleged that his brain damage was caused by negligent doctors at the military hospital where he was born. She filed a lawsuit claiming that the medication she was given during her induced labor overstimulated her contractions and caused distress to the baby; yet doctors ignored the warning signs that an emergency C-section should be performed. The court ruled in favor of the mother and recently awarded her $6.5 million dollars. The money gives her peace of mind knowing that her son will always have the care that he requires, even if she isn’t there to give it to him.

Dosage mistake causes baby brain damage, hospital settles for $7M

In a recent post, we wrote about how hard limits on IV pumps can prevent medication errors. But even hard limits cannot prevent a dosage mistake if an adult pump is used on an infant while being treated at a Pittsburgh hospital. It is imperative to use the proper equipment for the proper purpose to prevent patients from suffering a serious injury. A medical malpractice suit that was recently settled in Illinois is a prime example of this.

The family of a girl who suffered brain damage after her birth in 2003 because of a dosage mistake will receive $7 million from the hospital at fault. The hospital did not use a neonatal IV pump to administer fluids to the newborn, but rather an IV pump intended for adults. Medical professionals did not program any soft or hard limits on the pump either. As a result, the newborn girl received 405 cc per hour rather than the intended 4.5 cc per hour. The dosage mistake was not noticed until 46 minutes later. By then, her blood volume had increased by 250 percent, her weight increased by 20 percent and she had sustained brain damage. Now, 10 years later, the girl has developmental delays and requires special education.

Doctor shortage could delay treatment for brain injuries, more in ER

Most people in Pittsburgh expect that when they go to the emergency room seeking medical treatment, they will get the best care possible. Yet, that is not always the case. There are any number of things that could prevent physicians from properly diagnose and treat certain conditions. Lack of communication during shift changes, taking shortcuts to decrease wait times, medical malpractice and shortages of non-primary care specialists can all have a significant impact on the quality of care that a patient receives.

A traumatic brain injury, a rare heart condition or severe burns are all examples of medical emergencies that can be better treated by a non-primary care specialist. Patients who seek treatment in an ER for any of these unique ailments could experience delayed treatment while they wait for an on-call physician to travel to the hospital or are required to transfer to another facility. While this is more common in rural areas, it can happen anywhere. There is a nationwide shortage of specialists; by the year 2015 as many as 33,000 more non-specialty physicians will be required. That number is projected to increase to upwards of 64,000 by the year 2025. Many specialty physicians do not want to work in emergency rooms for monetary reasons. They still have to provide care for patients who do not have insurance or are underinsured and, therefore, are less likely to get paid for treating those patients.

Hard limits on IV pumps could prevent medication errors

The drug heparin is often used after a patient has surgery to prevent blood clots. It is also commonly used to break down blood clots in stroke patients. While there are many beneficial uses for heparin, administering too much of the powerful drug can cause internal bleeding and other serious problems for patients in Pittsburgh.

In the past, the IV pumps used to dispense heparin have been set with soft limits to prevent an excessive dosage mistake. If doctors or nurses program the pump to dispense too much of the prescription medication, an alarm would sound. But medical professionals hear so many different alarms throughout the day that they sometimes ignore the warning and override the soft limit. This could result in a patient receiving a dose of heparin as much as 45 times more than the recommended limit. Pharmacists at the Cleveland Clinic have improved safety on IV infusion pumps by creating hard limits, which cannot be overridden, to prevent potential dosage mistakes. It was reported that in 2010, medical professionals there overrode the soft limits in nearly 30 percent of cases. Pharmacists and nurses in other hospitals are urged to use hard limits as well.

With more older adults on the roads, drivers need to watch out

While the statistics show that older drivers are the safest drivers on the road, many people in Pittsburgh are likely to be concerned that the number of drivers 65 and older is on the rise. In fact, since 2003, the number of older drivers has grown by 21 percent. There were an estimated 35 million drivers 65 and older on the roads in 2012, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

One reason for concern is that the number of accidents is also going up. Though the figures from the Traffic Safety Administration reflect injuries and fatalities among older drivers, if there are increases in the number of elderly drivers injured or killed in car accidents, it is likely that the total number of accidents involving elderly drivers is also increasing. And, since it is unrealistic to assume that drivers are targeting elderly drivers, it may be safe to assume that elderly drivers are causing more accidents.

The holidays can be a time for sorrow, too

For most people in Pittsburgh, the holiday season is filled with fun, friends and family. It is a time to use up vacation days, go to holiday parties and spend time with loved ones. For many, this may mean having a drink or two, but there are also some who drink too much and then get in their cars.

When someone is driving drunk, he or she puts everyone on Pittsburgh's streets at risk. Driving while intoxicated lowers a driver's reaction time, impairs his or her judgment, and increases the risk of a serious accident. Unfortunately, this holiday season will likely see an uptick in the number of serious and fatal accidents caused by drunk drivers, meaning that some people in Pennsylvania will be spending their holidays coming to terms with the sudden loss of a loved one.

Multi-million dollar verdict in pharmaceutical birth defect case

Not all prescription medications are safe to take during pregnancy. Pharmaceutical companies are required to disclose any potential side effects that could harm the fetus—or the mother—during pregnancy in order to get FDA approval. Doctors should also discuss how a particular drug could affect a pregnancy with their patient before prescribing it. Sometimes, however, one or both parties fail to properly inform women of the potential birth injuries or birth defects that can occur.

An epileptic woman who took a prescription medication to control her seizures before, during and after pregnancy sued the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the drug and won close to $11 million dollars in damages. The lawsuit filed in Philadelphia alleged that the company failed to warn that birth defects could occur when the drug was taken during pregnancy. The woman took the prescription anticonvulsant from 2006 to 2011. Her son was born with a cleft palate and lip—birth defects she blames on the drug—in 2008. The defense attorney argued that the case, filed in 2011, should be thrown out because it exceeded Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations; the judge allowed the case because of the woman did not know what caused the birth defects until the year she filed the suit. Ultimately, the jury also sided with the woman and awarded the multi-million dollar verdict. $335,000 was awarded for the boy’s future medical costs; the remainder was for non-economic losses.

Doctor accused malpractice could permanently lose license

Many residents of Pittsburgh turn to medical professionals in their darkest hours. For some it may be to get a second opinion after being diagnosed with cancer; for others, it may be to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Most of the physicians in Pennsylvania have the necessary credentials and have been thoroughly vetted by the health board. Sadly, however, just because they have a medical license hanging on the wall behind them doesn’t mean that they can be trusted. There will still be a few incompetent doctors who make surgical errors, defraud their patients or commit some other form of medical malpractice.

A doctor who, until recently, was operating abortion clinics in Pennsylvania could have his medical license permanently revoked because of his negligence. He is accused of defrauding patients and endangering their lives. The man still has offices three other states, including New Jersey, where he is accused of performing late-term abortions and surgically removing fetuses. An investigation there was ramped up after a woman who sustained a serious injury during a botched surgery withdrew her malpractice lawsuit against the man. She testified to a judge that her lawyer learned that the doctor did not have any malpractice insurance. During a suspension hearing three years ago, the doctor testified that he had malpractice insurance and even went so far as to produce payment records for the policy. State prosecutors argue that the company that reportedly carried his policy has not issued any insurance policies since 2006.

VA Hospitals pay more than $800 million for medical malpractice

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is supposed to provide patient care and federal benefits to the brave men and women who have served our country. Yet, veterans are visiting VA hospitals in Pennsylvania for routine procedures and instead of receiving the standard of care that they deserve and expect, many leave with serious illnesses or suffer from permanent disabilities as a result of the hospitals negligence.

During 2102, the VA paid nearly $100 million dollars for to settle medical malpractice claims; a total of $800 million plus has been paid out over the past 10 years. Six years ago, a marine went to the VA hospital in Pittsburgh to have some teeth pulled. His blood pressure dropped more than once during the procedure, yet doctors continued and then allowed him to drive himself home. The man had a stroke and was involved in an automobile accident not far from the hospital. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and now needs round-the-clock care. The marine’s wife filed a lawsuit against the hospital; she was awarded her $17.5 million. The Pittsburgh VA Hospital has recently made headlines for problems there as well. Five veterans died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease during their stay.

After six-year decline, car accident crash rate increases

A recent finding by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may raise more questions than it answers. Specifically, NHTSA data indicates that motor vehicle accidents increased in 2012. The finding is especially disheartening considering that crash rates have been declining in the past six consecutive years.

Researchers haven’t specifically identified a causal relationship between increased cell phone use behind the wheel and the crash data. However, anyone that has committed this behavior knows that, at best, such activities take a driver’s eyes and concentration off the road. At worst, the behavior can cause an accident.

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