Archive for Medical Negligence

A Good Case Is Not Enough Without A Good Lawyer

Sometimes even outrageous medical misconduct requires expert legal representation to meet the court’s standards for awarding punitive damages. Consider the case of Tammy Cleveland, suing a doctor and a hospital for the death of her husband, Michael.

Michael Cleveland, age 46, collapsed after suffering a heart attack in Tops Friendly Market in Tonawanda, New York on a Friday night in October 2014. He was put into an ambulance and rushed to the emergency room at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, where a doctor pronounced him dead 25 minutes later. 

Tammy couldn’t accept the pronouncement of her husband’s death — because she could see he was still breathing. She could see his moving arm. Four times she insisted that doctors or nurses come in to confirm Michael’s death, and four times they refused. 

The coroner was called. What the coroner saw on his arrival was Mr. Cleveland struggling to stay on a gurney as he was being taken to another ambulance to be treated at another hospital. The coroner declined to issue a death certificate on the grounds that dead people don’t move.

The attending physician had eventually been persuaded to check Michael’s vital signs nearly three hours after pronouncing him dead, exclaiming “My God, he’s got a pulse,” according to Tammy. Only then was Michael rushed to a hospital that could give him the treatment he needed.

Michael finally got the care he needed for a 100 percent blockage of a coronary artery at another hospital, but he got it too late. He died at the second hospital the next day. His grieving widow later sued the doctor and the hospital for damages for intentional infliction of extreme emotional distress. That part of her case was thrown out of court.

How could a claim for such obvious injury be rejected by a court? The judge accepted the argument of the doctor’s lawyer that the alleged malpractice had to be not just negligent but evil and malicious. Furthermore, the judge ruled that since Tammy Cleveland hadn’t chosen to seek psychiatric care to deal with her grief, her emotional distress could not have been very severe.

The ruling would have been the end of Tammy’s case if she had not had legal representation who firmly believed in her cause. Look at the courtroom dialog reported in The Buffalo News and paraphrased below:

“There is no doubt that Mrs. Cleveland endured enormous grief,” the appellate judge said. “But to establish emotional distress, medical treatment is required, unless there is evidence greater than that.”

“In cases where grief is clearly evident, it can be presumed,” Tammy’s attorney said.

“You’re saying this is one of those cases?” the judge asked.

“This is one of those cases,” Tammy’s lawyer replied.

Tammy Cleveland’s case was sent back to the lower court to continue.

To win in court, it’s not enough to be obviously injured. To be a successful plaintiff, you need a skilled attorney who recognizes the justice of your case.

Mother’s Lawsuit Claims South Carolina Guards Left Son to Die in Prison Yard

Allen Capers, 32, died on December 31, 2017, at the Turbeville Correctional Institution in South Carolina after receiving multiple stab wounds to the head, neck stomach, and hand. Renegade inmates had overpowered a guard, taken the master keys, attacked Capers as well as at least eight other inmates. They were using makeshift shanks, fire extinguishers, parts of chairs, a broken piece of metal, and mattresses as weapons in the assaults.

His mother, Debra Capers Dickson, filed a lawsuit claiming that the South Carolina Department of Corrections left Capers in the prison yard to die. By their negligence in providing adequate security and medical care, the SCDC contributed to the death of Allen Capers, according to the lawsuit.

Background: Prison Violence

The rash of prison violence has been widely reported and investigated. With severe understaffing, attempts to stem and prevent the violence and mounting homicide rate has been unsuccessful. The events on New Year’s Eve 2017 were part of just another outbreak of prison. As Justin Bamberg, the state representative and the attorney representing the family, says, “We’re talking about years, years of critical neglect from the state of South Carolina, years of problems with staffing, years of problems with facilities.”

Case Study for Prison Reform

A surveillance video depicts the prison guards dragging Capers out into the prison yard, and walking up to him, but not providing any medical intervention or assistance. While a statement from the SCDC claims that the actions of the guards are under investigation, Bamberg is pushing to make this a case study in the prison reform movement. He is calling for a capital-improvement bond to fix safety and security issues at the SCDC, which would have likely protected Capers.

The promise of greater security, combined with compensatory provisions, could also fix the understaffing issue. The rash of violence in the prison system has not only affected the lives of the inmates, but the guards are in danger as well. So, prison reform means improving the environment and working conditions for both inmates and guards. True improvement must take both sides of the cell-block door into consideration. It should not be a death sentence to serve out time in prison, according to Debra Capers.

Medical Malpractice As A Result Of “Never Events” Errors

Over eight years of analysis, John Hopkins’ patient safety experts, reported, in 2016, that medical errors are the third highest cause of death in the United States of over 250,00 deaths per year. Because of the high expectation of performance, “physician burnout” was said to be the cause of medical errors. Physician burnout occurs in more than 54% of physicians. The emotional symptoms of “burnout” are due to exhaustion, the dehumanizing viewing of patients as objects, and the accompanying cynicism.

A study of the relationship between the nurse’s burdensome amount of work and patient deaths found that an increase in one surgical patient led to a seven percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would die within the first thirty days of admission. The most damaging errors that a physician can engage in are errors referred to as “never events.” “Never events” are errors made by physicians that should “never, ever occur.” Research has shown that ” never events,” between September 1990 and September 2010, accounted for 9,744 paid malpractice claims. One half these claims were the result of surgery using the wrong procedure or the wrong part of the body and only 17 claims were the result of an operation on the wrong person.

Some of the more noted “never events” have been published in the media. In early April 2019, an Iowa jury awarded to Rickie Huitt $12.25 million because his prostate gland was removed, which was misdiagnosed as having cancer. His pathologist was treating two patients in 2017 and mixed up their slides containing tissue samples. The hospital’s anatomical laboratory mixed Mr. Huitt samples with another person who was diagnosed as having prostate cancer.

The mistake led to an incorrect diagnosis which directly resulted in his prostate gland being removed. The operation also damaged nearby nerves. Mr. Huitt became impotent and incontinent. He felt that he lost his manhood and active sexual relations with his wife due to the side effects of the surgery, which included stress and humiliation.

How could a highly intelligent surgeon and pathologist commit this grievous error? The surgeon/pathologist admitted to her errors of unnecessary surgery and cancer misdiagnosis, which can best be described as a “never event” and possibly the tragic result of “physician burnout.”

Unsigned Letter Raises Questions About Heart Transplant Program

David Kveton passed away after a failed heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke’s Center last year, leaving behind a widow and adult children. Shortly afterword, his widow, Judy Kveton received a letter that led her to question the quality of care her husband received. The letter claimed that the director of the heart transplant program, Jeffrey Morgan, had many “mishaps” during surgical procedures. It also stated that hospital administrators had been warned that he was not competent.

Judy Kveton filed a lawsuit alleging that her husband died due to mistakes made by doctors and nurses at St. Luke’s. In addition to citing the letter, the lawsuit claims that St. Luke’s manipulated the numbers to exaggerate the number of favorable outcomes in order to get people into the program. According to the lawsuit, “luring them into a deadly situation.”

St. Luke’s heart transplant program was one of the best in the country, but that seems to have changed in recent years. Some surgeons have left, it is believed because of concerns with Dr. Morgan and the quality of care patients receive. Some doctors stopped referring their patients to St. Luke’s. In fact, recent survival rates have it as one of the lowest in the country, and the hospital nearly lost its Medicaid funding due to the abysmal statistics. The national survival rate is 91% annually, with numbers for St. Luke’s for the last two years being 85%, far below the national average.

Medical records revealed a very different story from the one that Mrs. Kveton received from Dr. Morgan regarding her husband’s condition. The initial surgery took longer than it should have, leaving the donor organ on ice for over four hours, and decreasing the chances of the transplant being successful. The heart was struggling after the surgery but began to perform better.

There was another complication, however. A nurse turned Mr. Kveton over in bed when his chest was still open, which detached pacing wires from his heart. Backup wires should have been attached to prevent this complication, but the surgical team failed to do so. This began a downward spiral in which the heart began to perform worse, also causing Mr. Kveton to suffer a stroke. He endured more surgeries and another stroke before his family made the heartbreaking decision to remove him from life support.

Mrs. Kveton’s lawyer states that she isn’t motivated by money, but seeks “answers, accountability, and change”. St. Luke’s has made changes to its staff and replaced Dr. Morgan as director, although he remains on the staff.


Mom Sues ICE for $60million in Allegedly Neglectful Death of Her Toddler

A mother is suing the US government for the wrongful death of her 19-month-old daughter. Yazmin Juarez is a recent immigrant from Guatemala caught up in the US government’s ever-shifting immigration policy. Juarez and her daughter were detained at the border and confined to an immigration facility in early Spring.

They were sent to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. It was there beginning on March 1st, according to Juarez’s attorney, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) refused to get 19-month-old Mariee Juarez proper medical care, resulting in her death. For six weeks, Mariee’s upper respiratory infection grew worse and worse while ICE medical staff prescribed only Tylenol when the toddler was presenting with a 104-degree fever, congestion, vomiting, and diarrhea. The 20-year-old mother seeks $60 million in damages.

Mariee made it to a hospital emergency room only after ICE released the mother and daughter and the pair made their way to family in New Jersey. The toddler died there on May 10th. While in ICE custody, Yazmin had attempted to get emergency care for her daughter multiple times. Emergency doctors at the hospital in New Jersey diagnosed Mariee with an upper respiratory infection, acute bronchiolitis, and an ear infection.

The statement from Juarez’s attorney that lays out the toddler’s condition goes on to state, “The medical staff who discharged her weeks later noted none of these conditions and cleared her for travel without viewing Mariee, conducting any kind of examination, or taking her vital signs.

“Mariee entered Dilley a healthy baby girl and 20 days later was discharged a gravely ill child with a life-threatening respiratory infection. Mariee died just months before her 2nd birthday because ICE and others charged with her medical care neglected to provide the most basic standard of care as her condition rapidly deteriorated and her mother Yazmin pleaded for help.”

Customs and Border Protection declined to make a direct comment citing pending litigation but made clear, ” [a] lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations”.

An ICE spokeswoman defended her department’s medical staff, saying “ICE is committed to insuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care.”

The South Texas Family Residential Center is the largest ICE facility of its kind. It has the capacity to hold a total of 2,400 people.


Are Addiction Treatment Centers Slowly Becoming Death Traps?

Drug addiction is one of the greatest challenges claiming more lives than road accidents in America. The country has around 23 million addicts, making rehab a lucrative business. Since President George W. Bush signed a law that saw insurance companies start paying for rehab and enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, there has been a significant increase in the number of addiction treatment centers.

Most addicts and their families now view the centers as their only hope in their attempt to overcome alcohol and drug addiction. Some of these facilities have seen as many as over 63 percent of former patients abstain from taking drugs one year after treatment. It’s no secret that the centers have helped the patients to overcome drug addiction and become productive again.

However, the high demand for rehab services has allowed profiteers to make money from the most vulnerable population. There are fears that some incompetent addiction centers would rather host the patients against their wish than take them to a better hospital to get the necessary treatment. Consequently, it is not uncommon for outwardly healthy people to enter into these facilities and die shortly in mysterious ways due to medical incompetence and negligence.

Deaths Caused by Negligence and Incompetence

There are many rehab patient’s deaths which have occurred due to incompetence and medical negligence. The most notable one being that of Madison Cross, a 22-year-old woman who sought addiction treatment at Serenity Care Center. At the center, she showed intensifying signs of distress and begged the doctors to take her to a hospital. All her pleas were ignored despite her trouble breathing, racing pulse, and purple lips. This were signs showing she was lethargic and ill. Even after the technicians reported her condition to medical staff, she was only given some medication instead of being taken to full care hospital. Had it not been to medical negligence, her death would have been avoided. Currently, there have been 3,362 rehab patient deaths which could have been prevented.

Government Effort

Various measures have been put in place to ensure that the interests of the patients are prioritized in rehab facilities. Addiction centers are supposed to screen the patients before admitting them. Each state has an agency that licenses and regulates rehab centers. Besides, there are also requirements on who should assess the patient’s history and medical condition.

Whether the state agencies have been successful in regulating addiction recovery centers is debatable if the increasing cases against the facilities are anything to go by. Several rehab centers have had to pay thousands and even millions of dollars in compensation for their negligence and malpractice. Some have even been forced to close some of their facilities in an attempt to save their face.

What’s Next?

Despite death cases in some addiction centers, there are others that still handle their patients with dignity. Here are some things you need to do to ensure you don’t become the next victim in these addiction treatment centers;

• Get recommendations from former patients, doctors, or other medical providers.

• Sometimes, the internet may not give all the necessary information.

• Don’t be lured into selecting a rehab facility because of the incentives it offers.

• Be wary of addiction treatment centers that spend so much money on advertisements.

Betty Lozano’s Family receives a $1.9million Settlement from San Bernardino County after Her In-County Death

San Bernardino County recently awarded an Adelanto woman’s family a $1.9million settlement. Betty Lozano died while in the High Desert Detention Centre. She didn’t receive proper health care after experiencing a medical emergency.

Counsels representing Betty’s mother, Maria Stofflet and two young children sued the San Bernardino County Sherriff Department for negligence. Also, they accused the department of denying Betty vital medical attention while in the detention center. The lawyers filed a civil rights case in Riverside, last February.

A federal court agreed on the settlement on March 6 and later dismissed the case. Betty’s family lawyers, Dale Galipo, Sharon Brunner and James Terrell termed Betty’s case as being tragic. James accused the sheriff department of failing to learn from past lawsuits that other people had filed against it. He said that the deputy sheriff had low regard for life hence allowing Betty to die in her cell.

Also, Terrell emphasized the need to reform the department. Christina Montes, Betty’s sister, explained her mixed emotions regarding the settlement. She stated that a person’s life can’t be compared with any amount of money. However, she assured the court that the family would use the settlement to take care of Betty’s children. Christina pledged to push for a transformation on how the sheriff treats people.

She explained how many inmates in various correctional and detention centers need quality healthcare due to their mental health and health complications. Instead, the detention officers ignore their needs. Christina emphasized the need to hold people accountable for the department’s transformation. Moreover, Christina intends to mobilize other people who have lost their loved ones in detention centers.

Betty Lozano, 34, had a bipolar disorder. Police officers arrested her on July 26, 2017, at 4:27 p.m.The sheriff’s deputies thought she had taken drugs. As they were transporting her at the back of their patrol car, Betty fainted. The officers abandoned her in a cell for several hours until her demise that night.

According to the suit, there was a video record at the facility which was vital in confirming Betty’s health condition and its decline after her detention. She passed out at 8:50p.m.the detention officers took her to Victor Global Medical Centre where she died at 11:11 pm.

Sharon thanked the county court for the settlement. She said that although it wouldn’t make up for the loss of Betty, it will support her children. Also, she is eager to witness a transformation in jail policies and how the facilities will implement them. Sharon stated that she still receives numerous complaints from families whose loved ones have died in several San Bernardino County detention centers.

Family Awarded Nearly $50 Million Over 8-Year-Old Gizzell Ford Torture Killing

Chicago jurors were horrified in late 2017 by a torture death case in which an 8-year-old girl was consistently failed by her family, her medical doctor, and the child protection system. The Chicago Tribune reports the crime scene photos and injury reports shared with jurors during the five-day-long trial caused a halt in courtroom action as a juror sobbed uncontrollably.

In 2013, young Gizzell Ford was found strangled, brutally beaten and starved inside the Chicago apartment she shared with her father and paternal grandmother, Andre and Helen Ford. While her father died in 2014 while awaiting trial on related murder charges, her grandmother is now serving a life sentence for the torture killing, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

The wrongful death lawsuit culminated on Dec. 13, 2017 when the jury returned from a two-hour deliberation and awarded $48 million to the girl’s mother and family after finding well-known Chicago pediatrician Dr. Norell Rosado medically negligent in his treatment of the child in the weeks leading up to her 2013 murder. The pediatrician was tapped by the Department of Children and Family Services to evaluate the girl after an investigator received an abuse report initiated by Ford, who alleged molestation against the boyfriend of the girl’s mother.

“We just wanted justice for Gizzell, and in our eyes we got it,” said Sandra Mercado, the girl’s mother. “I just hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

During closing statements, Mercado’s attorney, Martin Dolan, said, “This child should never have gone through what she did. There are people in place who should’ve stopped this. Dr. Rosado failed to save her. He didn’t advocate for her. He didn’t protect her that day… It was like a green light for Helen Ford to do what she was going to do in the following weeks.”

The former honor student maintained a diary during her time with her father and grandmother. Just days before her death, she wrote of her own demise in the last entry: “I hate this life.”

Cook County’s insurance provider will likely pay out the nearly $50 million verdict, as Rosado was employed by the county’s hospital system at the time, according to the Chicago Tribune.