By Rob Lewis
When we see a tragedy in the news or hear about one from friends, we do everything we can to convince ourselves that whatever the tragedy was, it could not happen to us or to our families. We look for “evidence” that the victims of the tragedy used drugs or made bad lifestyle choices or otherwise put themselves in harm’s way. It is our nature to try to rationalize tragedy in this way because the thought that bad things can happen to us or to our families is truly terrifying.
In medical malpractice cases, insurance companies and defense attorneys understand this inherent need to rationalize. They eagerly look for ways to blame the patient for injuries caused by the malpractice of the doctors or the hospitals. “Blaming the patient” plays right into our need to convince ourselves that this tragedy could never happen to us. And for that reason, it can be an effective defense.
The reality is much different, however. Tragedy from medical negligence can strike anyone from any background, regardless of lifestyle choices or medical history. Victims of malpractice never say, “I saw this one coming” or “I should have known better than to have this procedure” or “I knew I shouldn’t have delivered my baby at that hospital.” As lawyers, we see in our practice that malpractice happens everyday and happens to people from all walks of life, of all ages with all different underlying medical conditions.
Medical research is starting to recognize the size and the scope of the harm done by medical malpractice. In 2013, John James, PhD, a NASA toxicologist, published an article in the Journal of Patient Safety in which he calculated, based upon several studies, that preventable medical errors in the United States resulted in deaths between 210,000 and 400,000 people per year and that serious injuries from medical errors occurred at a rate 10 to 20 times that number.
More recently, in May, 2016, Martin Makary, M.D., a surgical oncologist and professor at John Hopkins, and Michael Daniel, a research fellow, published an article in which they calculated that the mean rate of death from medical errors totals 251,454 people a year and concluded that if medical errors were a disease, it would be the third leading cause of death in the United States. Dr. Makary and Mr. Daniel explained that more people die from medical errors than die in car accidents, shootings, and suicides.
The truth about medical malpractice is hard to rationalize: it is random and it is pervasive. And its victims are, in fact, blameless. It can happen to people with jobs. It can happen to people without jobs. It can happen to people with insurance. It can happen to people without insurance. It can happen on weekends, holidays or in the middle of the work week. It can happen to young people. It can happen to old people. It can happen to people who live in the cities or suburbs, or people who live in the country. It can happened to anyone in any family. Unfortunately, as these articles prove, preventable medical errors occur too often and hurt far too many American families.