5 Unbelievable Medical Malpractice Cases

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Sep 4, 2012

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Medical MistakesCases of medical malpractice are more common than many people know. In fact, the Institute of Medicine estimates that at least 44,000, and as many as 98,000, people die each year as a result of preventable medical errors. Among these errors are delayed diagnosis, errors in performance during operations, over or under dosage to treat illness, equipment failure, and so on, according to the Institute.

Of these thousands of cases each year, many don’t make headlines, but the ones that do can often be shocking and leave us to question our next doctor visit. Some of those in the media in recent years are featured below.

1. The waking nightmare: CNN published an article in June, 2012 highlighting shocking cases of medical errors. Among them was the story of Erin Cook, who during a procedure to have an ovary removed awoke to find she could feel everything that was happening, but was unable to communicate. She was forced to endure the pain of her surgery without any numbness and without any way to tell the surgeon to stop. She was told the vaporizer that was supposed to be keeping her asleep malfunctioned and was leaking gas. Only about 5 percent of the anesthesia was making it into her system. Needless to say, the ordeal left Cook physically and emotionally traumatized.

2. The wrong person: The American College of Physicians details a case involving a 67-year-old woman who underwent brain surgery that was scheduled for a different patient. She is referred to as Joan Morris as a pseudonym in the report, we’ll use the same to tell her story here. Morris was in the hospital for a cerebral angiography for a previously sustained head injury. After this treatment, she was returned to the wrong bed on the wrong floor; and instead of being released the following day as intended, she was admitted into an invasive cardiac electrophysiology study, of which she was not scheduled to participate. It wasn’t until an hour into the surgery that the physicians realized their mistake. Fortunately for Morris, there was no permanent physical damage from the error.

3. The missing patient: Mary Cole, a 66-year-old nursing home patient went missing. She was found four days later in a storage closet. Multiple searches took place on the premises throughout the days Cole was missing, but the closet she had been accidentally locked in was somehow ignored. She was found alive but died later of dehydration, according to the CNN article 10 Shocking Medical Mistakes.

4. The leftover sponge: After a routine abdominal surgery, a Florida county judge named Nelson Bailey was released from the hospital only to experience more severe pain than before his operation. It was later found, after multiple inconclusive CT scans, that a large sponge was left inside his body during the procedure, according to this news article. By the time doctors discovered the sponge it had caused an infection and further medical complications.

5. The wrong amputation: Of the most shocking and detrimental types of medical malpractice, the well-known case of Willie King tops the list. Half way through a procedure to have a leg amputated, the medical team realized they were performing surgery on the wrong leg; by this time, it was too late and the leg had to be entirely removed. An ABC News article reports that on top of the $900,000 in damages paid to King by the hospital, the surgeon responsible for the error paid him an additional $250,000. The 1995 case brought a great deal of attention to medical errors and is thought to have sparked more stringent medical standards in hospitals and medical centers around the country.

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