– Written by Jon R. Perry
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that deaths from medical errors are likely responsible for more than 250,000 deaths annually. Shockingly, that makes medical errors the third leading cause of non-violent deaths in the U.S.
Dr. Martin Makary, lead author of the study and professor of Surgery and Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University, is a patient safety advocate, not a careless physician advocate, “I like many doctors have been aware that people die from fragmented care, diagnostic errors, preventable complications and the problem is serious,” Makary told ABC News. “The concern I had was ‘Why is this not a national funding priority…why does it receive a comparable fraction of the funding” for cancer or heart disease?
Sadly, the number is probably much higher than what is reported because when a patient dies, the cause of death is documented by a physician. Many times that physician is the same physician who committed the error, and there is true incentive to “bury the mistakes.”
Moreover, the Center for Disease Control tracks the data, and only the ultimate cause of death is listed, so the medical error leading to the cause of death can easily go unreported. Statistics relating to personal injuries are equally disturbing. The National Safety Council reports that more than 40,000 people are killed in automobile-related injuries every year, and more than 4.5 million people are seriously injured every year. The National Center for Health Statistics, a department within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has stated that around 31 million people are injured across our country each year that require medical treatment.
The exact number of lawsuits filed in order to redress injuries caused by the error of another is not exactly known. What is known, however, is that only a small fraction of injured victims actually pursue a claim.
There is absolutely no truth to the rhetoric disseminated by insurance companies with the most vested interest in the process that there is a medical malpractice lawsuit crisis. What is true, is that the number of lawsuits filed and the average verdict awards have been steadily declining over the past fifteen years.
The statistics are important because the philosophical underpinnings of the United States’ civil justice system rely on citizens enforcing their individual rights. Physicians rarely, if ever, face any type of criminal consequences for the mistakes they make, regardless of how egregious. Instead, injured victims or families are provided with the opportunity to redress the wrongs committed via a monetary award. The same is true for all victims regardless of the status of the wrongdoer. Using money damages to compensate for wrongs inflicted, while not perfect, is the best system in the world.
The decision to investigate an injury claim is a personal one. Individuals choose to pursue or not pursue claims for a variety of reasons. As a personal injury lawyer who has dedicated my life to helping injured families recover from tragic events, I honestly hate when prospective clients vehemently inform me that, “they are not the type of people who sue.” There is nothing negative about being the type of person who sues! In fact, maintaining an orderly society requires that individuals enforce their own rights. So fundamentally important that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right to a trial by jury. A trial where fellow citizens will decide right from wrong and make a fair and reasonable award when appropriate.
If a doctor who commits an egregious error and causes a death is not sued, then most likely, there are no consequences for the failure. That doctor will continue to treat patients and maybe continue to cause unnecessary deaths. If pursued, the worst thing that happens is the payment of money by an insurance company. Physicians’ licenses and privileges are not impacted by a civil verdict. Hopefully, however, the physicians’ approach to treatment of future patients is impacted and improved. If so, the world has been made a safer place, and perhaps a future family will be spared pain and suffering.
Not every bad outcome in a hospital nor personal injury caused as the result of an accident justifies a lawsuit. However, many justify contacting a lawyer that you can trust to professionally investigate the situation and provide guidance as to how you should proceed. Most reputable medical malpractice attorneys work on a contingent fee, so it should cost you nothing to have your situation investigated. Whether you ultimately decide to file a lawsuit is your decision. At a minimum, you should get answers to the “how could this have happened” question that will plague your mind.
Our law firm invites you to reach out and tell us about your situation. The details will be reviewed by our intake specialists who help Rosen & Perry personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers prepare cases. After this initial review, we’ll be able to determine if the case in question has merit and should be pursued further.
Johns Hopkins University, “Johns Hopkins study suggests medical errors are third-leading cause of death in U.S.”
ABC News, “Medical Errors May Result in More Than 200,000 Deaths, Study Finds”
Nation Safety Council (NSC), “Vehicle Deaths Estimated at 40,000 for Third Straight Year”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Accidents or Unintentional Injuries”