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Studies suggest many hospital errors are preventable and under-reported

Being hospitalized because of an injury or illness is a difficult experience, but many people take solace in the fact that they are in expert hands and that unnecessary complications are unlikely. Disturbingly, though, in the last few years, several studies have delved into reported medical malpractice cases to suggest that medical errors are often preventable and under-reported. Given these findings, it benefits people in King County, Washington, to understand the risk and their rights if they are ever affected by malpractice. 

Insights into hospital errors

In 2011, a widely publicized study revealed some alarming facts about hospital errors, as described by ABC News. Some shocking findings were that patients sustained hospital injuries during almost a third of hospital visits, and as few as 10 percent of hospital errors were detected by quality-of-care surveillance systems.

Of course, some hospital injuries, such as hospital-acquired infections, are sometimes simply not preventable. However, injuries that could and should have been prevented also occur. In late 2012, a study by John Hopkins University estimated that as many as 4,000 "never events," which are mistakes or injuries that should not happen under any circumstances, occur in the U.S. every week. As summarized in a press release reposted on Science Daily, after surveying malpractice cases, the study found that:

  • Every week, 39 patients will have objects left inside their bodies after surgery.
  • Over the same period, 20 patients will have the wrong body part operated on.
  • Again during one week, 20 patients will have the wrong procedure performed.
  • More than 80,000 such "never events" occurred from 1990 to 2010.

The study authors note that hospitals are only legally required to report those never events that end in a judgment or settlement. Therefore, the actual number of these events may be even higher. In light of these disturbing facts, it is important for patients to understand the rights that victims of medical malpractice have.

Recourse for victims

People who have been the victims of never events or other preventable mistakes can seek justice by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. When malpractice results in a fatal injury, the surviving family members of the victim have the option of filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Sometimes, these suits can be settled without going to trial, if the medical professional or institution offers a fair settlement. If the suit does go to trial, the plaintiff will need to establish that the medical professional failed to provide a professional standard of care. Often, professional witnesses must testify to establish this standard. If the plaintiff wins, the state of Washington does not cap malpractice awards, so the plaintiff may receive significantly better compensation than what would have been offered in a settlement.

Sadly, if findings from the last few years are any indicator, malpractice may affect many people this year. If you or loved one has been hurt by the mistakes of a medical professional, you should speak with an attorney about your options for pursuing compensation.

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Magnuson Lowell PS

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