Preventable medical errors kill about 30,000 Canadians every year. To put those eye-popping numbers into perspective, the former president and CEO of Toronto’s University Health Network asked doctors and nurses to imagine the outcry if they were operating a public airline where two 747s crashed every week.
Unlike a rare aircraft disaster, the individual deaths from preventable errors and medical malpractice occur so frequently that they cause few ripples in the public’s consciousness. Yet for the families affected, the injuries and loss caused by these avoidable errors is just as tragic.
In this blog post I discuss how medical malpractice can cause or worsen a potentially deadly condition called sepsis and explain some of your legal options if you believe negligence in a healthcare environment harmed you or a loved one.
What Is Sepsis and What Are Its Symptoms?
When the body’s immune system recognises a bacterial, viral or fungal infection is present, it begins to marshal its defences, including releasing chemicals in the bloodstream. If these chemicals trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body, multiple organs may be put under stress and eventually begin to fail. Worsening sepsis can progress to a state of severe sepsis or septic shock.
Although any type of infection can lead to sepsis, the most common varieties include: pneumonia, abdominal infection, kidney or urinary tract infection, and bacteremia or bloodstream infection.
Common symptoms and side-effects of sepsis include:
- Low blood pressure
- High fever
- Rapid breathing
- Cognitive impairment
- Organ failure
What Leads to Sepsis?
While patients may enter hospitals, long-term care centres and other medical facilities with pre-existing infections that develop into sepsis if they are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are another common cause of infection leading to sepsis.
Patient risk factors for HAIs, which usually occur after 48 hours of being in a facility, include the seriousness of illness, length of hospital stay, and compromised immune systems, but HAIs can also be caused organizational or individual care-worker negligence. Some examples include:
- Poor filtration of a facility’s heating and cooling systems
- Poor general sanitation practices
- Improperly sterilized medical equipment and devices
- Defective medical products such as hernia mesh
- Improperly healing surgical wounds or bedsores that develop from poor care
How Prompt Recognition and Treatment of an Infection Can Prevent Sepsis
Identifying and treating sepsis in its early stages is essential for minimizing damage to the body and avoiding fatal outcomes. Unfortunately, early-stage sepsis is often overlooked or misdiagnosed because symptoms are mild or similar to other less serious medical conditions such as influenza.
If a patient presenting symptoms of sepsis is not properly examined, misdiagnosed, or not treated in a timely manner if properly diagnosed, there may be a case of negligence caused by medical malpractice. HAIs causing sepsis that are found to be preventable or avoidable can also considered medical malpractice.
Is There a Legal Case?
We all know that to err is human. Even doctors, nurses and other medical staff who are held up in high esteem for their life-saving work can and do make mistakes. But, if negligence was the cause of the error or misdiagnosis and a case of sepsis or the severity of the damage caused by its progression was preventable, medical professionals and facilities must be held accountable for their role.
Proving medical malpractice can often be difficult due to all the variables involved in a patient’s care. However, many actions are successful if independent medical experts establish that preventable errors were made during a patient’s treatment or stay in a medical facility.
If you or a loved one developed sepsis, severe sepsis, or septic shock while in the care of a medical professional, particularly if it caused death or substantial disability, you may be eligible to receive damages and compensation for the harm you experienced. As a personal injury lawyer with a focus on medical malpractice cases, I would be pleased to listen to your story and explain some of your legal options.
While it may not draw the headlines of an airline disaster, individual deaths and disabilities caused by sepsis resulting from medical malpractice profoundly affect the lives of patients and their loved ones. A medical malpractice lawsuit cannot change the harm that has been done to you in the past; but it may provide a way for you to continue your emotional and/or physical healing.