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New Study Raises Questions Regarding Hospital Safety Standards

October 24, 2013

Although many presume that advances in medical technology mean that patients are safer when treated by medical professionals in a hospital setting, a new study suggests that this confidence may be based on a false sense of security. Many people were appalled when a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine was made public in 1999 that revealed 98,000 patients die annually in hospitals because of avoidable medical mistakes. While the original study received extensive publicity and many healthcare policymakers recommended a renewed focus on correcting the deficiencies that led to this high volume of deaths, a new study published in the Journal of Patient Safety suggests we are losing ground in our battle to make hospitals safer.

According to the new study discussed in a recent issue of Forbes, the number of fatalities caused by preventable medical errors has quadrupled since the 1999 study that initially caused so much alarm. The researchers determined that approximately 440,000 people die annually because of avoidable errors made in hospitals. When one considers that this is approximately fourteen times greater than the number of people who are killed in motor vehicle accidents each year, the scope of the problem becomes more apparent. This makes medical errors and omissions the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of accident-related fatalities by a wide margin. A sobering analogy drawn in the Forbes articles explains that medical malpractice in hospitals is essentially causing the death of the entire population of Atlanta in a single year.

While the numbers are disquieting, some suggest that hospitals have not become less safe, rather the data on medical malpractice fatality statistics has become more accurate. According to the Forbes article, new innovations in research methodologies have armed the public with more accurate approaches to identifying fatalities in hospitals that are associated with medical negligence. The important point to keep in mind is that these new methods for quantifying deaths related to preventable medical errors allow us to determine that these are not victims who succumb to the medical condition that sent them to the hospital, but rather the direct result of medical errors or omissions that could have been avoided.

Common examples of medical malpractice in hospitals that frequently cause serious injury or wrongful death include:

  • Miscalculation of dosage when administering drugs
  • Infections caused by use of equipment or instruments that are not sanitary
  • Failure to properly monitor a patient's symptoms, complaints or vital signs
  • Objects left in the body following surgery that lead to sepsis or other complications
  • Errors or lack of monitoring when using general anesthesia
  • Delayed or improper diagnosis resulting from the failure to request medical tests
  • Failure to accurately interpret diagnostic test results
  • Allergic reactions to medications previously documented in the patient's medical records

When a patient suffers serious adverse consequences because of a medical error in a hospital, the patient may have the right to pursue a medical malpractice claim. When the medical error causes or hastens the death of a patient, the patient's loved ones may have a right to pursue a claim for wrongful death. There are special issues of proof presented in medical malpractice cases against hospitals that include the following:

Joint and Several Liability: Depending on the state in which the act of hospital medical malpractice occurred, the doctrine of joint and several liability may be applicable. When medical errors occur, identifying the precise party who was responsible for the mistake can be challenging. When the doctrine of joint and several liability applies, this legal theory may permit a medical malpractice victim to recover the full measure of damages from all or any one of the responsible defendants.

Res Ipsa Loquitur: There are many situations where the only people in a position to know what went wrong during a medical procedure or surgery are the defendants that caused the injury. While the type of mishap will be something that does not happen unless someone involved in the procedure made a mistake, the exact nature of how it happened may be within the exclusive knowledge of the medical team in the room. In certain situations, this legal doctrine may be used in lieu of presenting specific evidence establishing precisely how the medical error occurred. The classic example of this type of case involves a surgery where a foreign object like a sponge is left in the body after a surgical procedure. While it may not be clear how this happened, this type of incident generally does not occur without negligence and the handling of the sponge will have been within the exclusive control of the surgical team.

If you or someone close to you is injured or a loved one dies because of medical error or omission in a Georgia hospital, our Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to those throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Chat.

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.