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Medical Malpractice Cases and Infection

It seems like every year there is a new and terrifying infection, like SARS, bird flu, and now the Coronavirus. These infections cause a media sensation that overshadows even more devastating hospital-borne infections that claim many lives every year. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer, like a medical malpractice lawyer in Cleveland, OH, will investigate medical records of patients who have died or suffered serious personal injury as a result of an infection. These are difficult cases, as discussed below. 

Causes of Infection

Infections are caused by various sources including viruses, bacteria, fungus, and parasites. Generally there is no cure for viral infections, as antibiotics do not work on viruses, so treatment is supportive. Fungal infections are treatable, but usually occur in immunocompromised patients, such that treatment may not be effective. Parasitic infections typically occur as the result of exposures in exotic locations, and treatments for this vary. For these reasons, most medical malpractice litigation arising out of an infection involves bacterial infections, which are typically treatable.

Bacterial Infection

Bacterial infections are curable with prompt administration of antibiotics and source control. Source control means removing the source of the infection, which might be an abscess, infected hardware, or a perforation. Delayed diagnosis or treatment of a bacterial infection can lead to the development of septic shock, multiorgan dysfunction, multiorgan failure, and death. Thus, a medical malpractice lawyer will focus on whether the infection should have been in the differential diagnosis based on the patient’s signs and symptoms, and whether or not treatment was timely.

It is well-established that early treatment of infection results in better outcomes. Once a patient’s condition progresses to sepsis, septic shock, and organ failure, the mortality rate rises at each successive stage. A wrongful death claim can be premised upon a delay in diagnosis and a delay in treatment leading to progression of infection to death.

Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment 

In addition to wrongful death, a medical malpractice lawyer will investigate cases arising out of severe neurologic injury such as brain damage, brain injury, paralysis, paraplegia, or quadriplegia resulting from an infection of the nervous system, such as meningitis or a spinal epidural abscess. Delayed diagnosis and treatment of these conditions can result in permanent neurologic damage that would be otherwise avoidable if treatment was commenced sooner. 

Infections after Surgery 

Medical malpractice attorneys often investigate whether a hospital-acquired infection, also called a “nosocomial infection,” was caused by poor infection control or lack of proper hygiene in the hospital. Many of these infections, including MRSA and Clostridium difficile infections, are directly traceable to the hospital environment. However, the medical community has effectively argued that these infections are not entirely preventable. Similarly, the medical community has successfully argued that postoperative infections are a known and accepted risk of surgical procedures that may not be preventable even when proper sterilization measures have been undertaken.  

In rare circumstances, a postoperative infection may form the basis of a medical malpractice claim. For example, if there is an outbreak due to the failure of proper sterilization technique on certain medical equipment, hardware, medical devices, or sutures, a medical negligence claim may be proven. Recent outbreaks include infections after colonoscopy due to improperly sterilized endoscopes, infections related to Ethicon sutures, and improperly sterilized arthroscopes used in arthroscopic knee procedures. Another way in which a postoperative infection can be proven to be the result of medical negligence is when a physician acknowledges improper sterilization technique. This is rare; however, there have been cases where a physician broke scrub or otherwise failed to employ proper sterilization techniques leading to a successful medical malpractice claim.  

Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Aside from these limited exceptions, a medical negligence claim coming out of a post op infection must be based on a delayed diagnosis and delayed treatment leading to progression of a primary infection to septic shock, organ failure, and either severe organ damage or wrongful death. If you or someone you know got an infection due to the negligence of a doctor, contact a medical malpractice lawyer today. 

Thanks to Mishkind Kulwicki Law for their insight into medical malpractice that causes infection.