In my previous post, I wrote about how Massachusetts medical malpractice occurs far more commonly than most people think. I also wrote about how some people view the subject of medical malpractice as largely an exaggeration cooked up by plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers. That viewpoint is extremely false. To illustrate a very probative and illustrative example, in my last post I introduced the first-hand account of a doctor who herself witnessed a shocking example of medical malpractice. The doctor’s name is Amy Tuteur, an obstetrician-gynecologist, who was educated at Harvard College and received her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. She is a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School. Earlier this year, in April of 2009, Dr. Tuteur posted a story on www.salon.com, entitled “They committed malpractice on my dad … and got away with it.” Not only was the malpractice shocking, it was tragic: It was her own father who died, at the hands of her own medical colleagues within the very hospital she worked in. What follows are excerpts from the rest of her story.
“(Following the discovery of the medical negligence that condemned her father to incurable cancer,) I had two questions: How had this happened? And why did (my father’s doctors) lie about it? Speaking with all the people involved, I was able to piece together what had happened. As part of the routine preparations for the bladder surgery, my father went to the hospital for pre-operative testing the day before. The hospital staff drew blood, did an EKG and took a chest x-ray. That night, he received a call: There had been a problem with the chest x-ray. Could he stop and have another one done the next morning before he presented for his surgery?
My father assumed that the problem had been technical; perhaps the X-ray was too light or too dark. He reported the next morning, as requested, for his repeat chest x-ray and headed off for surgery. The surgery went well. The bladder stones were easily removed and he recovered quickly and completely. What my father did not know is that he had been asked to have a repeat chest X-ray because the original X-ray had shown a small abnormal area on his left lung. The radiologist could not be certain about the identity of the abnormality, but strongly suspected that it was cancer. The repeat film confirmed that it was, indeed, cancer. Why had (my father’s doctors) failed to tell him of his cancer diagnosis? Because every doctor (involved in the case) had thought that the job of telling the patient this news, belonged to someone else. The radiologist thought that the urologist would tell my father, since the urologist had ordered the x-ray. The urologist thought that the radiologist would alert my father if there were anything abnormal on the x-ray. The anesthesiologist was aware that the chest x-ray showed a small cancer, but assumed that either the urologist or the radiologist had told my father. The radiologist actually sent the urologist the x-ray report, which mentioned the cancer, but the as the urologist admitted at trial years later, he had never looked at it.
Why did the doctors lie about it? To this day, I can’t figure it out. When I confronted the primary care doctor he claimed that they did it to “protect” my father. They didn’t want to “lower his morale.” Obviously, this was an excuse, because no one wanted to admit what had (really) happened, and because they wanted to protect each other. (Editor’s note: Doctors do this frequently. Don’t be surprised.) The part I can’t figure out is how they thought they would (successfully) keep it a secret: I worked at the same hospital. I had complete access to all the records, including the X-ray, yet somehow they imagined I would never look. Despite multiple types of aggressive chemotherapy, my father died, gasping for air, 8 weeks to the day after the second chest X-ray. What’s (so) difficult to believe is that his doctors had known for months that he had cancer, but they had “forgotten” to (even) tell him.”
Even though this is a true story, and the words no less of a doctor, supporters of medical malpractice and tort reform (translation: medical malpractice insurance companies that would like to restrict or outright eliminate a victim’s right to sue for medical negligence,) will likely brush off stories like this as an anomaly. Trust me, I’ve heard every excuse in the book: “It doesn’t happen statistically that often.” “Plaintiffs’ tort lawyers are suing doctors left and right, and we need to restrict the ability of people to file law suits.” “Medical malpractice jury awards and settlements are driving up the cost of doctors’ liability insurance.” Because of plaintiffs’ lawsuits and jury awards, doctors are abandoning the practice of medicine, leaving patients high and dry.” The high cost of health care is due to plaintiffs’ lawyers and medical malpractice lawsuits.”
Don’t believe a word of this. The objective, black-and-white truth is that medical malpractice lawsuits represent a very small portion of total tort suits filed in the United States, and in Massachusetts, the rate is even slower. Furthermore, the vast majority of Massachusetts medical malpractice lawsuits end in favor of the doctor, not the patient.
So don’t believe the false stories and excuses you may hear about how medical negligence is “rare” and “exaggerated”. As a Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney and a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer with more than twenty years’ experience in this field, I can assure you that medical negligence is anything but a rare occurrence. To learn more, visit the American Association for Justice’s website.
The Law Offices of William D. Kickham And Associates represents injured victims of Massachusetts medical malpractice and other personal injuries caused by someone else’s negligence. If you or someone you know has been injured due to what you believe may have been medical negligence, call us, and we can help you maximize financial recovery for the injuries you’ve suffered