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Hospital-acquired infections lawsuits increase

Medical malpractice lawsuits associated with hospital infections are on the rise. Recent verdicts awarded around the country show this trend in lawsuits.

  • $13.5 million was awarded by a jury on November 6 to a woman who died of an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria that she contracted during cancer treatment.
  • On November 14, a Utah woman reached a confidential settlement in a $16 million suit she filed alleging that a hospital failed to detect necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria, before and after she gave birth, causing her to lose three limbs and several organs.
  • In July, a Missouri couple was awarded $2.5 million after the husband contracted a potentially deadly type of staph infection when doctors inserted a pacemaker. As a result, the patient lost a kidney and his leg and foot had to be amputated.

Over 2 million infections transmitted in hospitals occur annually which has led to 90,000 deaths as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. The CDC found that in long-term care centers an additional 1.5 million health-care related infections occur each year.

"This is the next asbestos. Now that the evidence is overwhelming that nearly all infections are preventable, hospitals that don't follow the proven protocols are inviting lawsuits," said Betsy McCaughy, founder and chair of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a non-profit patient safety organization in New York.

Twenty-six states have passed laws requiring hospitals to report infections acquired in their facilities. The standard of care for hospitals in preventing infections is rising because of new guidelines and rules. As of October 1, 2008 Medicare has stopped reimbursing for certain types of hospital-acquired infections. "There are CDC standards on infection prevention and lots of published materials that can be used to establish the standard of care," said McCaughy.

Causation is often the more contentious issue, McCaughy has noted. The plaintiff "is going to need an expert to say, 'If this precaution had been taken, he would not have gotten this infection,'" McCaughy said.

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