Misjudgment and Medical Malpractice Derail a Young Man’s Life

You seek the services of professionals—whether they might be accountants, consultants or even Ohio medical malpractice attorneys—because they have three things you need:

  • expertise in their field
  • the skill to use that expertise effectively
  • the judgment to do what’s right, and what’s best for their clients

The same is true when you go to a physician. You rely on the doctor’s expertise, skill and judgment to treat your affliction. Sometimes, though, a physician’s judgment falls short. A questionable decision can leave patients damaged for life, shattering their future and crippling their self-esteem.

When a doctor makes a decision that no competent doctor would make, and the doctor’s decision hurts a patient, that’s medical malpractice. And when a client suffers due to such a breach of trust, that’s when we step in.

As attorneys, we can’t repair whatever physical damage might have been done. But we can help clients hold their physician accountable for decisions that have harmed them. And when that’s done, our clients can begin to rebuild their lives.

A simple procedure goes awry—why?

Our client, Brad Pullen*, entered the hospital with a neck infection that was causing him considerable pain. When he left the hospital, he no longer had functional use of his right shoulder.

Brad suffered from a branchial cleft cyst. It is a congenital birth defect where certain tissues in the neck fail to form properly, leaving an open space called a cleft sinus where a cyst may develop. The cyst itself is not dangerous unless it becomes infected.  This type of infection can be very painful, but is often treated effectively with antibiotics.

To prevent future infections, doctors usually recommend surgery to remove the cyst after the infection has been treated. The normal procedure is to use antibiotics for three to four weeks to ensure that any infection has been cleared up before attempting surgery.

In Brad’s case, however, that procedure wasn’t followed.

A hasty decision results in medical malpractice

The physician who examined Brad diagnosed the branchial cleft cyst infection on a Friday. Brad was put on high-dose antibiotics immediately, and by Sunday his condition had noticeably improved. The swelling was down, and Brad’s pain was dramatically reduced.

Then the physician made a decision that has never been fully explained: He recommended surgery immediately to remove the cyst, rather than waiting the three to four weeks for the infection to clear. The problem was that traces of the infection had inflamed the tissues, making it difficult for the surgeon to see important nerves in the area where he was going to operate.

The surgeon operated on Brad the next day. While the cyst was successfully removed during the surgery, the physician inadvertently severed the spinal accessory nerve, which controls movement of the shoulder and arm.

Brad effectively lost the use of his entire right shoulder and arm.

A life derailed by negligence

Had the nerve been reattached immediately, the damage could have been minor. But after removing the cyst, the surgeon never checked to see if he had accidentally cut a nerve—something a reasonably competent surgeon would have done. A devastating injury resulted from a mistake that could have been avoided had the physician waited the appropriate amount of time to operate, or checked to see if he had done damage to nearby nerves.

Brad was just 23 at the time of the surgery and was studying to be a culinary chef. The injury to his shoulder and arm halted his pursuit of that career and severely limited other job opportunities as well. The family’s plan for raising children was also disrupted: His wife had planned on staying home and raising their three small children while Brad pursued his culinary career and provided for the family financially.

That was only the beginning. A later surgery tried to reattach his spinal accessory nerve but was unsuccessful. Brad also developed a winged scapula, a protrusion of the shoulder blade resulting from the nerve damage. That condition required surgical reconstruction of the shoulder, and years of painful physical therapy.

Hope for the future

On Brad’s behalf, we filed a medical malpractice suit against the physician. In our opinion, the suit should have been resolved quickly through negotiation with the physician and his insurance company. But recently, doctors have been winning the majority of medical malpractice cases, and that has emboldened many of them to go to trial rather than settle out of court.

Medical malpractice litigation is notoriously complicated and arduous as it is. In Brad’s case, the process took six years before he received a substantial verdict in his favor that could give him options for putting his life back on track. While the verdict doesn’t fix Brad’s shoulder, it does give him an opportunity to invest in a business, or even pursue education and training for a different career.

Results that deliver a powerful message

Hopefully, Brad’s favorable verdict will have a legacy that goes beyond this one case. It reinforces the message to physicians that their judgment is just as important as their medical expertise and skill. A high volume of patients is not what builds a healthy practice—healthy patients build a healthy practice.

Treatment shortcuts too often result in outcomes that can be life-damaging. As medical malpractice attorneys, we’ve witnessed over and over how heartbreaking that damage can be. If you think you’ve been a victim of medical malpractice, please give us a call—we’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

 *Names in this article have been changed to respect our client’s privacy.

Ohio Malpractice Attorneys Hold Hospital Accountable for Wrongful Death

A “DNR,” or do not resuscitate order, is an advance directive used by hospitals to signify a patient’s desire to pass away without lifesaving intervention in the event that their heart stops or they stop breathing. These are typically used by patients who suffer from a terminal illness or other serious medical condition. It is an important instrument that allows an individual to instruct doctors on precisely how to handle care at the end of his or her life.

Imagine if someone mistakenly assumed you had a DNR order. This is one such case. A 72-year old woman was allowed to pass away because the nurse on duty mistakenly thought she had a DNR order. When her family learned that she lost her life due to a clerical error, they were devastated. That’s when they decided to seek out experienced Ohio malpractice attorneys, and gave us a call.

A terrible mistake results in a wrongful death

Columbus native Rita Martin* had moderate cardiovascular disease when she presented with heart attack symptoms at the ER of a large local hospital. Heart disease ran in Rita’s family, but her siblings had all lived to almost 90 with pacemakers. So her symptoms didn’t come as a total surprise to her family.

Initially, Rita responded well to treatment and was due to be released. While she was recovering in a step-down unit, a second heart attack struck. Tragically, the nurse on duty mistakenly believed Rita had a DNR order on file, and she allowed her to pass away without intervention.

Rita’s devastated family approached us for help with this wrongful death case. They wanted us to help hold the hospital accountable for the egregious mistake that cost them their beloved wife and mother.  As experienced Ohio malpractice attorneys, we knew we had a clear-cut malpractice argument tied to the mistaken DNR order.

The case proved to be slightly more difficult than we thought, however, when the hospital went on the defensive. Though they did not deny the nurse’s mistake, they claimed that Rita’s heart attack was so massive, she wouldn’t have survived even if they had administered lifesaving treatment.

The value of expert opinions

We set out to find the best and most experienced cardiology experts to review the medical details and help us discredit the hospital’s defense. We can’t stress strongly enough the value these clinical experts brought to this case. Their findings indicated that hospital intervention likely would have saved Rita’s life.

Our careful argument strategy combined with the expert’s findings allowed us to achieve a favorable ruling and settlement that would help the Martins maintain a good quality of life in Rita’s absence.

It’s a good thing, too, because the Martins certainly could use the help: both Rita’s husband and one of her children had physical disabilities. In life, Rita played the role of a caretaker for her family. When she passed away, they really struggled to hold things together. They couldn’t afford the skilled nursing needed to replace the care Rita had provided. She was the glue that held the family together. We were determined to get the Martins the financial resources they needed to take care of themselves after Rita’s untimely death.

Working for a cause

It’s a frightening scenario: The caregivers you trust make an error so critical that it costs you your life. We wanted to do our part to help stop that from happening again to someone else.

For over a year we fought to make things right for the Martins, and during that time we became close with them. A key component of their mission in working with us was to ensure that no one else would fall victim to a similar mistake. Their hope was that the results of this case would force the hospital to improve its policies and procedures so as to protect everyone who walked through their doors.

A favorable court decision meant a lot to our team because we firmly believe that human beings have a right, especially after climbing the difficult hill into their 70s, to have their advance directives honored to the letter. In this wrongful death case, the nursing team allowed Rita’s life to end through negligence and carelessness.

As a result of our success with this case, the Martins were able to find meaning in Rita’s passing with the hope that her death had not been in vain—and would help improve hospital procedures and policies for future patients. The financial outcome made a concrete difference to this family as well.

We took on the case to honor Rita, and ultimately to help take care of her family when she couldn’t be there. It was a difficult case, but we’d take it on again in a heartbeat because it was the right thing to do.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcomes of any client’s case will depend upon the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Civil Litigation for Healing and Closure

The clients we work with have been dealt catastrophic losses, and each client is affected deeply. They each face the tragedy in their own way, trying to make sense of what happened and to begin to heal. The civil justice system is best set up to provide money to compensate someone’s loss, but we’ve found that winning a case for our clients isn’t just about compensation. It’s about healing, and closure, and moving on. And how that happens will vary from client to client.

Some clients need to face the wrongdoer. Others want an explanation—how, why did this occur? Most just want everything back to normal. To achieve this requires attorneys with both a strong legal and emotional skill set.

Asking the right questions

When we first meet clients, our goal is to develop a personal connection with them, not just gather the facts of the case. We seek to peel away the layers to determine what is important to the client—financially, physically, emotionally—to make sure we have a true understanding of the case and the people involved.

We do this by listening carefully. We start by asking a client what their goals are. Often we hear general responses like “I want answers.” We then probe deeper, listening for the real issues.

In a medical malpractice wrongful death case, for example, where a family member has died tragically, we often find our client feels tremendous guilt. They feel they are somehow responsible for what happened. Perhaps if they’d only sought another opinion or asked different or more questions, they think, their loved one would still be alive. In a case like this, one of our goals—both during our meetings, and at trial—is to reassure the family¬ that they did nothing wrong.

We also listen very carefully in these types of cases to understand family dynamics. When someone is seriously injured or killed, it’s important to delve into their relationships with other family members and how they lived their life. That helps us plan tactically how we approach issues at trial. It lets us paint a complete picture of what the victim and their family have lost.

Solid relationships

Our decades of experience have taught us that solid relationships throughout the civil justice system are also critical in achieving successful outcomes for our clients. From judges to co-counsel to opposing counsel to potential clients, we make sure everyone knows that it’s our ultimate goal to reach the best result for our client in the most efficient manner possible.

As civil litigation attorneys, it’s our job to assess what it will take to get to the desired goal, work toward that goal, and gain the respect of our peers and clients along the way. That makes each and every subsequent case that much easier to handle.

Many people think civil litigation attorneys are like two boxers in a ring slugging it out. While knock-down battles are sometimes necessary, when possible we prefer to work things out and avoid unnecessary battle. It’s simply better for our clients.

We don’t needlessly argue over minor legal points, like petty discovery disputes, if it won’t ultimately serve our client. Choosing the right battles builds credibility with the court and opposing counsel, and it avoids tying up a case and prolonging its resolution—all to the benefit of our clients.

Resolve

Just because we understand the art of compromise doesn’t mean we won’t fight for our client with all we’ve got. Knowing when to take a stand is an important aspect of successful civil litigation. We dig in when we need to and are exceptionally tenacious when we feel our client has been wronged.

Recently, our office received a referral from an out-of-state attorney who had referred several clients to us in the past. He told us he knows that we fight hard but that we’re reasonable, which made him confident we’d be able to achieve a successful outcome for his client.

Passion, care, and excellence

We look for these qualities in every person who joins our team, and we live by these qualities with every case.  When it comes to civil litigation, we are passionate about pursuing justice and righting wrongs. It’s just the way we’re wired.

We care deeply about our clients. We get to know them personally so we can understand and internalize their needs. That lets us best represent their interests and help them find peace and closure.

We pursue every case, every client, with excellence. We bring equal parts communication, creativity, and intelligence to each case, which ensures that everyone involved—clients, judges, juries, opposing counsel—ultimately feels like the best possible outcome has been achieved.

We know that a person or family looks to us for help because they want to heal. They want our help putting the pieces of their shattered life back together. We believe it’s our job—our obligation—as civil litigation attorneys to understand what a successful outcome to the case will be for each individual client, and then use everything we’ve got to achieve that outcome.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.