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Surgeon Admits Mistake, Hospital Insurer Denies It

Mellino Law Firm

Last summer, a 74-year-old woman fell and broke several vertebrae due to osteoporosis. She underwent spinal fusion surgery but started suffering leg spasms, according to Boston Globe.

“A doctor recommended she have a pump stitched underneath her skin to get calming medication directly to her spine, and out to her muscles, faster — often a two-hour outpatient procedure,” the August 31, 2014, article stated. “In the operating room [months later], the neurosurgeon requested a special dye to test the location of tubing that had been threaded into her spine. But the pharmacy didn’t have it and provided a different one.”

The surgeon injected MD-76 into the woman’s spine twice even though the warning label said “not for intrathecal use.” The patient died the next day.

When Dr. Steven Hwang told her sons about the mistake, they asked how such a thing could happen.

“He said he asked for one dye and they gave him another,’’ one son told reporters. “I said, ‘You didn’t check it?’ He said, ‘The nurse gave it to me and I used it.'”

Chief medical officer Saul Weingart said the doctor “saw what he expected to see and proceeded.’’ This phenomenon is called confirmation bias.

Another doctor attributed the mistake to ascertainment bias, meaning the “surgeon trusted the person who handed him the vial. You expect them to be correct. What you expect to happen will happen because most of the time it actually does.”

Regardless of the cause, the surgeon admitted he’d made a mistake. Still, eight months after the woman’s death, the hospital’s medical malpractice insurer sent the sons letters stating that neither the doctors nor the pharmacists caused her death.

Earlier this month, the patient’s sons filed a lawsuit against the hospital as well as 12 pharmacists, nurses, and surgeons.

This is not the first time the hospital has been sued.

January 25, 2011, boston.com reported that the facility settled a psychiatric drug overdose lawsuit for $2.5 million. Nearly six months later, the same website said a 44-year-old woman was suing the hospital and her primary care physician for faxing her medical records to her employer’s shared fax machine.

“Hospitals are required to publicly report breaches of patient privacy that affect at least 500 people, and cases that are publicized often involve lost computers or components of computer systems that contain unencrypted information,” boston.com stated. But in this case, the woman’s medical records went to people she knew, not strangers. “[The plaintiff] said it exacerbated other medical issues and stalled her career” since she went on disability after the error.

If you have questions about a doctor or hospital’s liability in the death of a loved one, attorney Chris Mellino welcomes you to contact our Cleveland office for a free consultation before Ohio’s statute of limitations expires in your potential claim. As the hospital’s attorney said in the bostonglobe.com article, “[C]ases take longer to resolve when multiple caregivers are involved, in part because lawyers must determine each individual’s role in the error — and what portion of any settlement their insurance policy is responsible for.”

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