A Chicago jury recently awarded $14 million to the plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The plaintiff, Mariola Zapalski, was prescribed the birth control drug Yasmin. After taking the medication for 13 days, she suffered a stroke that resulted in a permanent brain injury and the paralysis of her left side. She now requires around-the-clock care.
The lawsuit alleged that Zapalski’s doctor should not have prescribed the medication to her because she had underlying risk factors. According to the lawsuit, her doctor also failed to warn her of the risks associated with the medication. A lawsuit against the medical center that provided Zapalski with the referral to her doctor was settled for $2.5 million, according to reports.
Yasmin contains drospirenone, which is a synthetic progestin that has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and blood clots. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2011 stating that birth control drugs containing drospirenone may carry a greater risk of blood clots than other types of birth control. Preliminary results from an FDA study suggested that the risk of blood clots is 1.5 times greater. However, Yasmin and other drugs containing drospirenone are still on the market. Bayer, the manufacturer of Yasmin, has settled other lawsuits over the drug.
In a recent birth injury lawsuit, a jury award of $11 million will stand after a judge denied a defendant’s motion for a new trial.
The jury made the award in November 2013 in a lawsuit over birth injuries suffered by a child whose mother, Haley Powell, used the antiepileptic drug Topamax during pregnancy. The suit alleged that the mother’s use of the medication caused the boy to be born with a severe cleft palate and other birth injuries. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures the drug, was the defendant in the case.
The jury found that Janssen failed to warn the mother of the risk of birth injuries from the use of Topamax during pregnancy.
In denying the motion for a new trial, Judge George W. Overton of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas held that the amount of the award was appropriate given the severity of the injuries. Overton noted that the boy struggles to be understood in conversation, has residual scarring from surgery, and faces future additional surgeries as well as psychological and emotional challenges stemming from the cleft palate.
At the time of the trial, Bloomberg News reported that the plaintiffs’ attorneys claimed that Janssen intentionally withheld safety reports suggesting a link between Topamax and birth injuries.
Several doctors who have committed medical malpractice and other offenses to such a degree that they lost their state licenses to practice medicine have been able to practice medicine in other states and to continue billing Medicare for their services.
A Bloomberg News investigation found seven doctors who billed Medicare for a total of $6.5 million in 2012, despite having lost their medical licenses because of medical malpractice or other misconduct.
Consumer advocates and some members of Congress decried what they called a permissive approach to participation by doctors in the $604 billion Medicare program. Records show that all seven doctors informed Medicare that they had lost their licenses.
The information was released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicare. The federal agency released data regarding its payments to doctors for the first time in more than 30 years. So far, only data from 2012 has been released. CMS said it hoped the release of data would make it possible for others to assist in uncovering fraud within the system.
CMS has discretionary authority to take doctors off the Medicare provider list if they lose their state license to practice medicine. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) Inspector General has the same discretionary authority. Neither agency is required to act, and a DHS spokesman said that doctors are generally not excluded if one state revokes a medical license but another state grants a license with knowledge of the first state’s action.
The widow and children of a Chillicothe, Illinois man who died four years ago were recently awarded $1.6 million by a Peoria County jury.
The award came after a three-week medical malpractice trial and 10 hours of jury deliberation over three days. Eventually, the jury found one doctor and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center liable for Donald McIntyre’s death in September 2009. However, St. Francis employees and a charged resident were not found negligent regarding McIntyre’s care.
McIntyre was diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia when he visited St. Francis on September 6, 2009. The condition causes red blood cells to be destroyed, limiting the oxygen that can be distributed through the body. According to the lawsuit, the proper treatment for the condition is a blood transfusion and administration of steroids, but the procedures were not followed properly. The complaint alleged that McIntyre received only two units of blood, which were not enough to stabilize his condition. He died of cardiac arrest.
The hospital has released a statement expressing its condolences to the family and saying that it agreed with the jury’s finding that OSF employees were not negligent. The hospital said it was reviewing its options in regard to the finding that the hospital was the apparent principal of the doctor who was found negligent.
A Michigan woman in a birth injury lawsuit has been awarded almost $13 million by a jury.
The lawsuit alleged that Genesys Regional Medical Center made mistakes during the delivery of the woman’s daughter, disfiguring the girl and restricting her from the full use of her arm.
The lawsuit stated that during the January 2008 delivery, the baby’s shoulder became lodged underneath the pelvic bone, a condition that is known as shoulder dystocia.
Reported instances of shoulder dystocia have greatly increased in recent decades, perhaps as a result of a corresponding increase in average birth weight.
Shoulder dystocia can often be dealt with successfully during delivery, but the lawsuit argued that the doctor pulled down on the baby’s head too much, causing an injury to the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves near the shoulder. The lawsuit claimed that the doctor should have recommended a cesarean section or used a different method that would place less stress upon the baby.
The hospital said that the mother received appropriate treatment and that there were no complications that indicated that a cesarean section was necessary.
The baby was born with a disfigured arm. Now five years old, she has undergone several surgeries and continues to wear a brace on her malformed arm. Doctors have classified the injury as permanent and have said that it will require continued therapy.
A suburban Chicago man has accepted a $17 million settlement in a brain injury medical malpractice case.
Alexander Williams of Harvey, Illinois alleged that he suffered serious brain injuries after medical personnel at the University of Chicago Medical Center failed to diagnose an infection when Williams was treated there in 2003.
Williams currently has trouble speaking, is confined to a wheelchair and is not able to use the left side of his body, including his left eye. The settlement will enable him to undergo physical and occupational therapy and receive daily nursing care.
According to news reports, Williams visited the emergency room at the University of Chicago Medical Center on September 6, 2003 with a temperature of 101 degrees, a severe headache, a rapid heart rate and pain in his chest and back. Williams was born with a heart defect and had previously had endocarditis, which put him at risk for subacute bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the heart.
According to the complaint filed in the case, hospital officials failed to test for the condition and instead gave Williams ibuprofen and released him — only to have him return to the emergency room with the same symptoms two days later. According to court documents, the condition was eventually diagnosed, but the delayed diagnosis meant that surgery could not be performed until 17 days later, when heart tissue had already been destroyed by the infection.
According to recent studies, diagnostic mistakes account for anywhere from 26 percent to 63 percent of all medical malpractice claims.
Some still argue that high payments in medical malpractice lawsuits drive up the cost of health care, but an examination of the facts shows that this claim is false.
Between 2000 and 2011, health care spending increased by 97 percent, but the value of medical malpractice payments decreased by 12 percent. Research shows that total medical malpractice payments have continued to decrease, that such payments account for a small percentage of health care costs and that most payments are for very serious injuries.
The nonprofit group Public Citizen reviews data on medical malpractice cases each year. In its most recent report, for 2011, the group found that medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf had dropped for the eighth consecutive year, and had reached their lowest level since 1991.
In 2013, medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf accounted for only 0.12 percent of national health care costs.
According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, 80 percent of 2011 medical malpractice payments compensated victims for serious injuries such as brain damage, quadriplegia, injuries requiring lifelong care and death.
Medical errors are a serious problem with grave consequences. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Medicare patients experience a serious adverse event that is preventable each year. In 80,000 of those cases, the error contributed to the patient’s death. In contrast, only 9,758 medical malpractice payments were made on doctors’ behalf in 2011 — all leading Public Citizen to conclude that most medical malpractice errors do not result in litigation.
Disciplinary actions hold physicians accountable for medical errors, improper diagnosis and other types of medical malpractice. They allow state medical boards to work with and examine doctors. However, a recent review of data by the Chicago Tribune revealed that the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation takes a relatively small number of independent disciplinary actions against doctors, choosing instead to rely on other states’ investigations.
The review found that the department took action against fewer than 30 Illinois doctors for improper diagnosis or medical errors. However, the agency disciplined more than 100 physicians after other states’ medical boards found they had provided improper care or engaged in misconduct. Nationally, Illinois presents one of the highest out-of-state investigation reliance rates.
In one case, the Illinois medical board received a letter stating that a doctor had committed a medical error that resulted in a patient’s death. In a deposition, he admitted that he falsified records to cover up the mistake. The letter arrived three years ago, but the agency has taken no apparent disciplinary action against the physician.
Patient advocates said that taking action after another state has done so is important, because it helps prevent an incompetent doctor from simply practicing in another state. However, those cases are also the easiest to pursue, and experts say that an overreliance on such cases may indicate that the medical board is not working on the more difficult investigations.
Hundreds of lawsuits have alleged that mothers taking Zoloft and other antidepressants during pregnancies suffer birth injuries to their children. Now, a bellwether trial has been scheduled in multidistrict litigation.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe is presiding over 475 cases in the multidistict litigation in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She has scheduled the first bellwether trial for November 3, 2014.
The lawsuits allege that the plaintiffs’ use of Zoloft and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) caused their children to suffer birth injuries. The injuries included persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, which affects the heart and lungs and has a fatality rate of 10 percent. The injuries also included craniosynostosis, which is a cranial deformity that can cause seizures; omphalocele, a condition in which internal organs form outside an infant’s body; ventrical septal or atrial septal defects; and clubfoot.
Judge Rufe selected 25 cases to serve as bellwether trials in the multidistrict litigation. She is also presiding over another multidistrict litigation involving allegations that mothers’ use of Effexor caused their children to suffer birth injuries. There are 52 cases in that litigation.
Zoloft, also known as sertraline, was introduced by Pfizer in 1991 and is prescribed for depression as well as for panic, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
The cases add to concerns about the safety and effectiveness of SSRIs in treating depression, particularly among pregnant women.
Republicans have strongly criticized President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but they have struggled to articulate a common alternative vision for health care. While House Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times, there has been less unity on proposals that replace it.
One proposal involves new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.
Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is one of several Republicans pushing for the proposed legislation, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, place new restrictions on medical malpractice suits and provide more access to health savings accounts.
However, some Republicans oppose the concept of a big healthcare bill that would make sweeping changes. Instead, they propose a targeted approach with smaller bills that would make limited changes within Obamacare.
The Affordable Care Act sets minimum standards for health insurance coverage. It requires most Americans to purchase health insurance and provides subsidies for low-income people to get coverage. Opponents have criticized the legislation as government interference in the marketplace.
Many states have passed legislation limiting the amount of non-economic damages, such as those for pain and suffering, that can be recovered in lawsuits over medical malpractice. In other states, including Illinois, such limits have been ruled unconstitutional. At the federal level, the Supreme Court has ruled that punitive damages in any lawsuit may not exceed compensatory damages by a ratio of more than nine to one.