Can Infections Rise to the Level of Medical Malpractice?August 16, 2021
Anytime a doctor tells a patient they need surgery or some type of medical procedure, the patient gets nervous. Most people do not understand exactly what is happening and why they need the medical treatment their doctor recommends. Although modern medicine has come a long way, problems can still arise.
One such medical problem is an infection. Infections do not sound all that bad. Ultimately, however, infections can be serious in their own right, in addition to leading to more serious medical issues. Some medical problems that stem from an infection can be deadly. Medical infections are nothing to take lightly.
Patients can develop an infection during many types of medical procedures. Infections can also be the result of negligence on the part of a doctor or other medical professional. Understanding whether a patient’s infection rises to the level of medical malpractice may require a consultation with an experienced lawyer.
How Infections Develop
Infections occur when an open wound absorbs foreign items, such as bacteria and other microorganisms. Once in the body, these microorganisms multiply rapidly and, left untreated, can cause serious harm. In the medical field, microorganisms may enter a patient’s body during surgery, through the use of unclean medical tools, and many other ways.
When a patient is being treated for a medical issue, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are required to take steps to reduce the chance of the patient getting an infection. Unfortunately, that does not always occur, and patients may end up with an infection because of the negligence of a medical professional.
When an Infection Might Become Medical Malpractice
Simply getting an infection does not always mean a doctor or medical professional was negligent and therefore liable for medical malpractice. There are, however, several ways in which a doctor could have caused an infection in a patient that would give rise to a medical malpractice claim.
Hospital infections. An infection acquired during a hospital visit usually develops quickly, within a day or two after a patient was admitted. There are several causes of hospital infections:
- Unsterile surgical tools
- Improper use of antibiotics
- Lack of hospital cleanliness
- Lack of doctor cleanliness
- Problems with the hospital’s HVAC filtration system
- Contaminated surfaces
When a patient undergoes surgery or even just a hospital stay, they are usually in a weakened state. This may also mean their immune system is not working properly and may have difficulty fighting off an infection, making them more susceptible to getting an infection during their stay.
Infections acquired at the hospital are serious matters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 35,000 people die each year of hospital infections. Many of these deaths were preventable and occur when hospitals and doctors do not adhere to strict and long-held medical standards.
Misdiagnosed infections. Symptoms of infections can include:
To determine if a patient has an infection, a doctor may perform tests. Even with this information, a medical professional may not be able to accurately determine the infection. This can result in treatment that does nothing to cure the infection, causing additional pain and concern for the patient.
Misdiagnosis of an infection can occur for many reasons. Some of these include:
- Incomplete medical records for the patient
- A doctor failing to take a full medical history
- Not ordering the right tests
- A doctor failing to discuss the patient’s infection with a specialist
Any of these items, plus others, could give rise to a medical malpractice claim. Depending on the type of infection, the seriousness of the infection, and how the infection developed, a patient may be able to hold a doctor or medical professional negligent for misdiagnosing their infection.
Examination infections. Infections often occur during medical procedures. They occur most notably during surgeries, but also during medical examinations. Human error causes most surgical medical malpractice claims and can leave patients with a lifetime of suffering as they attempt to heal from the negligent act of the doctor.
Routine medical examinations can also cause serious injuries and can be directly attributed to negligence. For example, the American Journal of Roentgenology has reported that patients have experienced perforations of the colon during routine gastroenterological examinations. This means that a patient goes in for a procedure as a healthy person and suffers infections during the procedure, causing the patient to undergo additional medical treatment for the infection they received.
Fatal infections. Not all infections are serious enough to risk a patient’s life, but some are quite serious, and those infections usually cause sepsis. This happens when a patient’s body produces an overwhelming amount of immune chemicals to try and overcome the infection. But left untreated, sepsis can damage internal organs and cause death.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 300,000 people die each year of sepsis. Symptoms include:
- High heart rate
- High white blood cell count
Sepsis can be caused by an infection received while a patient was in the hospital or undergoing a medical procedure or examination. Determining where a patient received an infection that became sepsis can be challenging, especially if the patient saw several doctors or spent a long time in the care of a hospital.
Proving Medical Malpractice
Just because a patient suffers an infection, that does not automatically mean that a doctor committed medical malpractice. To prove that medical malpractice occurred and that a doctor or medical professional acted negligently, a patient must prove that:
- They had a doctor-patient relationship with the doctor.
- The doctor failed to act in accordance with standard medical practices.
- The doctor’s failure to follow standard medical practices resulted in an infection in the patient.
- The patient suffered injuries because of the infection.
Although this might sound simple to the patient, proving this may require expert witnesses and the help and support of a trusted legal advocate. If a patient can prove the above elements, they may be able to collect compensation for their injuries. This compensation might include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Lost income
- Lost earning potential
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of life enjoyment
- Present and future medical expenses
- Rehabilitation costs
However, if a patient dies of their infection or sepsis, the doctor or medical professional’s negligence may result in a wrongful death claim. In this case, the patient’s spouse, children, or other familial representative would bring a wrongful death claim. They would have to prove similar elements as listed above in order to prevail. Although no amount of money can bring a loved one back, the money collected in a wrongful death claim can help the survivors cover expenses such as:
- Final medical bills
- Funeral costs
- Burial expenses
- Loss of financial support
When someone dies of their infection, the people they leave behind may have relied on that person’s financial support; the deceased may have been the breadwinner in the family. This can leave the surviving family with a huge financial burden. If they can prove that medical malpractice was the cause of their loved one’s untimely death, the family may be able to collect additional compensation to help them remain financially stable.
Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Get Results for Medical Malpractice Victims
When you go to the doctor, you expect to get better, not worse. Unfortunately, infections occur frequently and often rise to the level of medical malpractice. When this happens, a doctor or medical professional has failed to provide you with competent medical care, resulting in you suffering injuries or, tragically, losing a loved one. The Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton dedicate themselves to helping medical malpractice victims like you recover compensation for your injuries or for the untimely loss of a loved one because of a medical professional’s negligence. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.