The central purpose of the civil justice system is to help those harmed by negligence be “made whole” following the misconduct of another person or entity. It is with that goal in mind that damages are calculated, attempting to roughly quantify the loss one suffered and re-pay that loss as much as possible. Of course there many nuances to this principle (like punitive damages), but this same concept applies in virtually all civil lawsuits, from auto accidents to medical malpractice and everything in between.
Those working on behalf of injured community members know, however, that in many cases, particular those involving medical negligence, it is impossible to actually make an injured party whole. This is one of many reasons why attempts to curb awards in these cases in wholly inappropriate and divorced from the reality of permanent loss that so many victims face.
Surgical Error & Sepsis
This reality is demonstrated in a sad case recent profiled in the Daily News. The story shares the case of a now-thirty three old woman who went into for surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy. According to accusations in a med mal lawsuit filed later, the young woman was nearly killed after suffering from complications from a punctured colon in that surgery.
The woman fell not long after the surgery, and it was not until later that doctors discovered it was caused by blood poisoning and gangrene from the surgical error. Following the incident she went into cardiac arrest, needed another colostomy, and required skin grafts. In total, she spent 73 days in intensive care. As a result of the complications she first suffered some hearing loss. But, unfortunately, her health did not stabilize. As a result of the sepsis surgeons needed to amputate both of her feet. The damage continued afterward, and she eventually needed to have both legs amputated just below the knee.
Needless to say, this is the type of loss that can never be repair. No matter the outcome of a the med mal case, there is no way that the young woman can be made just as she was before the incident. Of course, no one would chose to go through that ordeal and lose parts of both legs voluntarily–not for any amount of money. It is entirely inappropriate for anyone to accuse this patient (and those similarly situated) of pursuing justice simply out of a desire to make money.
There is no simple way to quantify damages in cases like these. But, at the very least, the best approach is to let an impartial jury made up of community members to deliberate and make choices based on all of the information presented by both sides. It is only a jury that can take all of the unique nuances of each case into account when reaching a specific amount. For example, in this case, the affected patient has a 13-year old daughter who she can not raise on her own, having lost the ability to perform her old job. It is critical that all those factors be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine what is fair in any given situation.
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