Attorney Malpractice

July 24th, 2019 by Rieders Travis in Attorney Malpractice

The Catastrophe of Infections in American Hospitals

People go to hospitals and medical facilities to get well, but all too often they wind up getting sicker or even dying from infections acquired at these very facilities. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.7 million cases of infection will contribute to more than 90,000 deaths annually at United States hospitals. Preventable medical infections are one of the greatest causes of sickness and death in the United States. If infections drop to manageable levels, the cost of healthcare insurance would be dramatically lower.

It has been shown that many infections can be prevented if healthcare professionals are careful and follow guidelines. For example, one big source of infection is blood stream infections (CLABSIs), which are caused when central lines that deliver medications directly into the blood vessels near the heart become contaminated. Experiments have shown that CLABSIs can be prevented if healthcare workers follow guidelines for careful and sterile central-line insertions and maintenance.

At Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, a program has been instituted with the goal of eliminating all CLABSIs. The hospital has come up with a specific central-line insertion checklist that details each action that must be taken before, during, and after the insertion of a central line. The hospital uses a crash cart that contains all necessary materials and supplies in one easily accessible place. Dressings and tubing are carefully monitored, and everyone observes and stresses the sterility of the procedural area. Staff members are always reassessing when to safely remove central lines. The result: In a 28-month period that was monitored from 2010 to 2012, their Intensive Care Units were CLABSI-free.

If following and monitoring sterility procedures can reduce these infections to close to zero, why are facility-related infections still so common? The reason is often due to failure by medical professionals or the facility to create and implement an infection control policy to protect patients. This failure to follow safe practices can amount to medical negligence.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm or someone has died due to an infection caused by negligence of a medical provider, you have the right to seek compensation for your losses. The seasoned Pennsylvania healthcare facility malpractice attorney Clifford A. Rieders at Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann knows the courts and the system and what you need to do to increase your chances of winning a good settlement. We offer a free consultation to carefully examine the individual facts in your case and determine the best way to handle it. Put our experience to work for you today by calling 800-326-9259 or by using our online contact form.

Common Healthcare-Acquired Infections

Since a wide range of bacteria are found at healthcare facilities and patients’ immunity is often compromised, the likelihood of acquiring an infection is increased.  If an infection occurs in a patient 48 hours after admittance which is not associated with the patient’s diagnosis or health issue, it probably was acquired at the facility. These infections are often caused by failure to follow safe practices.

Infections may occur from:

  • Surgical incisions and equipment, such as duodenoscopes
  • Patient rooms and equipment, such as catheters and ventilators
  • Procedures, such as blood transfusions.

Among the most common infections are:

  • Clostridium difficile — Staph bacteria, spread though feces, cause a gastrointestinal infection and diarrhea that is estimated to cause 14,000 American deaths every year. C-diff often occurs from poor hand-washing or improper sanitation.
  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) — These are antibiotic-resistant germs that can cause deadly infections in 40-50% of victims.
  • Methacillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus– (MRSA) is a bacterial infection that is resistant to most types of antibiotics.
  • Catheter-assisted urinary tract infections of the urethra, bladder, ureters, and/or kidneys occur when a catheter is left in a patient for too long.
  • Pneumonia – Serious strains include psedomas aeruginosa and Klebsiella pnuemoniae. Pneumonia often occurs in people on a mechanical ventilator machine.
  • Surgical Site Infections (SSIs) – Can cause serious, life-threatening tissue and organ infections, including necrotizing fasciitis(flesh-eating bacteria), which is fatal in 30-40% of cases.
  • Meningitis — An infection of the protective lining around the brain and spinal cord.
  • Sepsis — A bloodstream infection that can lead to septic shock, a whole-body allergic reaction that can cause multi-organ system failure and has a mortality rate of 20% to 40%.

Healthcare Associated Infections May Be Preventable

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, there are infection control policies that can reduce deadly and costly infections. These include:

1) Being Aware of Organizational Risk Factors

Healthcare facilities must make sure the facility and equipment are clean and germ-free.  Steps to take include:

  • Monitoring the filtration of the HVAC system
  • Lessening concentration of patient beds
  • Assuring the cleanliness of water systems and building surfaces
  • Maintaining the sterility of medical devices
  • Using proper chemical germicides and disposal of patient care items.

2) Eliminating Staff Risk Factors

To stop infection being spread by staff contact, facilities must:

  • Increase the frequency with which hands are properly washed
  • Make sure staff members utilize proper protective equipment such as gloves, face masks, gowns and eye protection, cap, and sterile full body drape
  • Make sure antibiotics are given, especially during invasive procedures such as placing central lines, intravenous administration of medication, intubation, and urine catheterization.

Other Pennsylvania Situations

Cliff Rieders has been instrumental in fighting hospital-associated infections. Rieders was an advocate of Act 52 in Pennsylvania, which is supposed to try to get a handle on infections in Pennsylvania and establish benchmarks for hospitals. Those benchmarks have been established, but there has been little follow-up and almost no enforcement. The Patient Safety Authority, which Cliff Rieders was an original founding member of and served with for 15 years, is tasked with major responsibility in connection with healthcare associated infections. The Patient Safety Authority has done a lot of education, and its website is worth reading. Unfortunately, there is no stick but only a carrot for hospitals and doctors.  It is very difficult to convince any court that an infection should not have occurred. The usual defense is that “infections just happen.” However, the Pennsylvania courts are taking a more dim view of hospitals and doctors just saying an infection is a “risk” of a procedure.  Typically we take cases where there are signs and symptoms of the developing infection and nothing adequately was done to stop the infection or treat it. It is difficult to prove that a doctor broke the sterile field, that a nurse did not wash her hands, or that an instrument was dropped on the floor. We also have taken MDL cases involving infections, such as the Bair Hugger unit. The Bair Hugger is alleged to have sucked up air from the floors of operating rooms, and therefore cause infections when it was supposed to be warming the patient.

Malpractice Liability

It can be difficult to determine liability for injuries or death resulting from HAI, so a thorough investigation into the specific circumstances of how the infection was acquired, why it was not promptly treated, and whether it could or should have been prevented is necessary. An experienced medical malpractice attorney knows how to call in qualified expert medical witnesses to determine whether there was compliance with the appropriate medical standard of care, the infection was preventable, and the negligence of a medical professional or staff was involved.

Contact Us For Help and a Free Evaluation

If you or somebody you know was harmed or someone has died due to a hospital-acquired infection, you can receive a free in-depth consultation by contacting attorney Clifford Rieders at Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann.  Rieders is a Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association.  He has written a leading textbook on medical malpractice, which is used in Pennsylvania by lawyers who work in the field. He is a well-known teacher, media authority, speaker and writer who testifies frequently on medical practice matters and who has helped write Pennsylvania legislation on the subject.

Rieders has won numerous awards and recognition from the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and he received the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority recognition award, the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, and the Milton D. Rosenberg Award from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. Rieders is on committees and organizations that write the law in many fields of practice. Cliff Rieders was involved in the writing of the Mcare Act, which governs medical liability actions in Pennsylvania. Cliff teaches the subject of medical malpractice at seminars attended by the leading lawyers in the state. Cliff Rieders is recognized as an outstanding authority in the medical malpractice field and has even testified before the legislature on medical malpractice laws. He is the lawyer that other lawyers call for counsel and advice and is admitted in state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States.

Contact Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney Cliff Rieders at Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann by calling 800-326-9259, or contact us online. Based in Williamsport, our firm serves clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania and provides you with experience, knowledge, compassion, and a long history of results.

ATTORNEY MALPRACTICE-ESTATE DOCUMENTS

The Estate of Philip F. Young and Brinton Young, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of Philip F. Young v. Robert Louis, Esquire and Saul Ewing, LLP, 2018 Pa. Super. (December 31, 2018) Stabile, J.-Appellant Brinton Young, both individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Philip F. Young, appeals from an order granting summary judgment in this legal malpractice action in favor of Appellees Robert Louis, Esquire and Saul Ewing, LLP. Appellant argues that Appellees’ negligent preparation of estate documents prevented him receiving all assets that Philip Young intended him to receive from Philip’s trust. We affirm. Appellees represented Philip, not Appellant. Philip executed a will in 2006 naming Appellant the sole beneficiary and bequeathing Windy Hill, Philip’s tangible personal property, and a residuary interest to Appellant. In 2006 or early 2007, Appellees drafted an amendment to the Trust that made Appellant the sole beneficiary of the Trust. Philip never signed the amended Trust. As in Agnew, the fact that Appellant was named as sole beneficiary in the unexecuted amended Trust does not give him standing to sue Appellees. It also deserves mention that Appellant received everything he was entitled to receive under the executed 1951 Trust and executed 2006 will. The law does not entitle him to anything more. 

ATTORNEY MALPRACTICE-STATE ACTION-SETTLEMENT- Kilmer v. Sposito, 146 A.3d 1275 (Pa. Super. 2016)

In this appeal, Appellant Janet Kilmer (“Appellant”) appeals the trial court’s order sustaining preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer filed by her former attorney, Appellee James Sposito (“Appellee”), in Appellant’s legal malpractice and breach of contract case. Because we conclude that the trial court erred as a matter of law, we reverse.

According to the complaint, Appellee negligently and carelessly advised Appellant, the surviving spouse, to file an election to take against her husband’s will under the provisions of 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2203, which would entitle her to one-third of husband’s estate,1 when pure operation of law pursuant to 20 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 2507 and 21022 would have entitled Appellant to one-half of the estate as a surviving spouse who had married the testator after he made his will. Appellant followed this advice, and Appellee, on Appellant’s behalf, filed an election to take against her husband’s will in Orphan’s Court on June 30, 2009, a move that effectively reduced Appellant’s share of her husband’s estate from one-half to one-third.3

Appellant terminated the services of Appellee upon discovering the significance of exercising her right of election and hired a new attorney, Michael Briechle, Esq., to represent her interests in the disposition of the estate and challenge the validity of her election. Specifically, Appellant, through Attorney Briechle, filed objections to the executors’ Final Account that listed Appellant’s share as one-third of the estate consistent with her election, and she argued that she was, instead, entitled to a one-half share as if her husband had died intestate, pursuant to Section 2507(3), supra. The lower court scheduled a hearing on the issue of Appellant’s lawful share of the estate, but it continued the hearing date on joint motion of the parties, who were negotiating toward settlement. In July of 2011, Attorney Briechle and the estate reached settlement, wherein Appellant agreed to accept a 41.5% share of Husband’s estate.  The question is whether the settlement means that no suit could be brought against the malpracticing attorney.  At issue was the interpretation of Muhammad v. Serassburger, 587 A.2d 1346 (1991) which held that a dissatisfied plaintiff may not sue his or her attorney for malpractice following a settlement with which plaintiff agreed.  The court, however, distinguished Muhammad.  The court said that appellant had no real choice, given the risk, but to settle the underlying action.

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