A patient presents with on-and-off fevers, pain in her right leg, and being unable to put weight on that leg. Hours later, blood work indicates an elevated white blood cell count and other tests indicate swelling in the leg. As her doctor, what do you order?
Yep, it's an unfair question to most of us. Based on extensive research undertaken via "Grey's Anatomy," "E.R.," and "House," an elevated white blood cell count indicates some sort of infection. Yet the hospital didn't administer antibiotics until 24 hours after Ashanti Norals was presented to the emergency room, reports Courthouse News Service.
Because of the untreated sepsis, which was allegedly indicated by the lab results and her vital signs, Norals had all four limbs amputated.
"Grey's Anatomy" episodes and Dr. Carter's diagnoses on late-night reruns of "E.R." won't suffice in court. Proving a medical malpractice case typically requires loads of expert testimony. The expert will have to testify that the typical and appropriate response to the patient's symptoms was not administered. The plaintiff will have to prove, more likely than not, that the hospital staff's conduct fell below the standard expected of reasonable medical staff.
Four doctors and numerous nurses allegedly missed the signs of sepsis. If they can argue that there was a different and reasonable conclusion that could have been drawn from the symptoms and lab results, they might not be held liable. Doctors are not expected to be perfect or exceptional; they are expected to perform to the standard of the reasonable, ordinary physician.
While the plaintiff's expert will likely testify that the doctors and nurses missed an obvious diagnosis, the plaintiff's own expert will probably testify about an alternate diagnosis. Medical malpractice cases can be extremely complicated for juries, as a group of 12 ordinary citizens has to hear complicated medical testimony filled with foreign terms and decide whether the professionals being sued fell short of their standard of care.
Remember that impossible question at the beginning of this post: What would you order? That's exactly what the jurors will be asked if this case goes to trial.
- Consult a Chicago Personal Injury Law Attorney (FindLaw)
- Erica Norals v. Univ. of Chicago Medical Center, et al. (Courthouse News Service)
- Woman Goes Blind After Botched Surgeries, Sues Everyone (FindLaw's Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog)
- A Quick Glance at Illinois Medical Malpractice Laws (FindLaw's Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog)