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What is Medical Malpractice? One Example is Leaving a Sponge Inside a Patient

Proponents of so-called tort reform claim that our medical malpractice system is overrun with “frivolous lawsuits.” They claim that crushing limits on what people can recover when they are injured by healthcare provider errors will in some way improve the legal system. So legislatures nationwide have put strict damage caps and statutes of limitations in place to prevent patients and their families from succeeding in medical malpractice cases. What this misguided mission ignores is the very real fact that actual people are severely injured by mistakes made in the medical profession. Just like truck drivers, plumbers, and restaurant service workers, sometimes some people in the medical profession do things wrong. And when they do, patients are either injured, or they die.

Medical Team Leaves Sponge Inside Woman

One such case happened in Ohio. The Dayton Daily News reports that Eugenia Snowden underwent a seventeen hour surgery in February 2009 at Miami Valley Hospital. During that surgery, the medical team left a laparotomy sponge inside Ms. Snowden’s body. Ms. Snowden died fifteen months later. Wright State Physicians Inc. admits that the sponge remained in Ms. Snowden’s body for about seven months, including two failed attempts to remove the sponge. One of the surgeries to remove the sponge wound up injuring Ms. Snowden’s spleen. Ms. Snowden’s husband filed a wrongful death suit due to what happened. The suit had gone to trial and a verdict is expected soon.

Even if the sponge did not ultimately cause Ms. Snowden’s death, she obviously suffered serious injuries including two additional surgeries and damage to her spleen because of the medical error. Yet tort reformers would say her husband’s recovery should be severely limited, because somehow limiting recover for those who have been obviously and seriously injured will improve our legal system.

What Type of Medical Malpractice is Most Common?

CBS News recently reported on the the most common types of medical malpractice. The study that was the subject of the report focused on primary care physicians as opposed to surgeons. Researchers looked at 34 journal articles from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Canada. Ultimately they found that the most common type of malpractice is missed diagnosis, and that death is the most common consequence of these claims. Most often the missed diagnosis is for cancer or a heart attack. Next in line behind missed diagnosis was prescription drug error.

The most interesting part of the study, however, does not have to do with the type of claims. Rather it has to do with payouts. Rather than society being filled with patients who are looking for some sort of lottery-style payday, the exact opposite is true. Only one third of medical malpractice claims in the United States resulted in any payout whatsoever.

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