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Failure to act could be hazardous to a patient's health

When a patient is injured because a doctor or other medical professional fails to perform his or her job duties in a competent manner, the doctor or attending medical professional might be liable for medical malpractice. To establish liability for medical malpractice, the patient must be able to show that there was a duty of care such as a doctor/patient relationship, that the medical professional's conduct deviated from the applicable standard of care and that the doctor's error or deviation resulted in harm to the patient.

Maryland readers may have heard that two top physicians from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston recently agreed to pay the family of woman who died after falling from a ladder nearly $4.5 million. The incident happened in 2005 when the 62-year-old patient was cleaning. She apparently fell from a six-foot ladder and broke her ribs. After she was taken to the hospital, doctors discovered that one of her ribs had cracked, leaving a sharp tip close to her aorta, a fact that would ultimately result in her untimely death.

Due to the severity of the situation, the woman was transported to Massachusetts General, where surgeons were believed to be better situated to help her. After arriving at the hospital, the woman was evaluated, but the doctor never ordered a new chest image and chose not to assemble a trauma team. It was also in the patient's file that she had a bad cough. The morning after the fall the woman coughed, causing the rib pierce her aorta. She subsequently went into cardiac arrest and died.

To find a doctor or other medical professional guilty of medical negligence, the patient must demonstrate that the defendant's conduct somehow fell below a standard of care that is deemed generally acceptable by the medical community. Establishing this can be rather difficult and requires expert testimony from other medical professionals practicing in the same area. While many medical malpractice cases involving claims of doctor's error end up in court, many more, like the case above, end up in settlement.

Source: The Boston Globe, "MGH doctors to pay $4.5m over death," Jacqueline Tempera, April 16, 2014

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