Buried back on the 2nd page of the Metro section, the above story title appeared in the March 12, 2008 Oregonian Newspaper. Note it says fatalities, not injuries. Injuries, whether serious life threatening ones or merely something from which you recover, are separate numbers. So what type of hospital errors caused 24 deaths? All ones that were easily preventable. The article described some of the common types. Operating on the wrong body part, leaving foreign objects in your body cavity and medication mix-ups topped the list. The article went on to explain drug errors are much more prevalent than actually reported. A comforting thought. The two main reasons 24 people died? Poor communication and inadequate procedures. Easily preventable mistakes. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why malpractice insurance is high. 24 deaths and probably hundreds of serious injuries are expensive items to cover. One would hope the hospitals quickly informed the spouses and families of the people killed why the mistake happened. One would also hope they offered to pay for the expenses and some reasonable damages for what was done to the families. Unfortunately, all too often secrecy is used instead. The families may never know why it happened. Insurance companies know that most victims of medical malpractice never pursue a case and never talk to a lawyer. The ones that do face a major uphill battle with the hospital or doctor’s insurance company hiring top notch lawyers and bevies of medical experts all in an attempt to convince a jury it was a simple mistake that couldn’t be prevented. Getting justice for the poor victim or their family is very difficult. First they have to find a lawyer willing to spend upwards of a hundred thousand dollars on experts to prove the case. Then the experts are often pressured by others in the medical community and their own malpractice insurance company not to testify. Sordid business indeed. And the hospitals’ solution to the suits being brought? Laws to limit victim’s rights. Laws making it more difficult to sue and more difficult to find a lawyer. So instead of fixing the problem, let’s just make it so no one can hold us accountable when we do something wrong. Remember this the next time someone tells you we need laws limiting what a malpractice victim or their family can pay a lawyer to represent them. Or we need laws putting more obstacles in the way of someone trying to use the civil justice system. Just ask yourself who is behind it and who would benefit. It’s usually not the poor sap who lost his life or limb when a hospital makes a preventable error.
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