A young woman went to a well-known plastic/cosmetic surgeon for a tummy tuck and related surgery after having giving birth to 2 children. The procedure was done in the surgery center owned by the Plastic Surgeon. He charged $25,000 in advance. The surgeon arranged the nursing and anesthesia care for the surgery. His office also arranged for an overnight stay at a recovery center with supposedly well-trained nursing staff and appropriate monitoring equipment. The patient was to have her vital signs taken every 4 hours per the order of the surgeon. The nurses were also supposed to observe her frequently and notify the surgeon of pain breaking thru despite the pain medication she was being given. The nurses were alarmed by her condition and the unexpected excessive pain. They called her surgeon several times but he did not come in to assess the patient. His assessment was "Done" via phone only. Stronger pain medication was prescribed.
Early in the morning the patient became semi-comatose and her vital signs rapidly deteriorated. The nurses were busy with other patients and failed to promptly recognize the patient’s deterioration. They delayed calling 911. When they finally did, paramedics found the patient in full arrest. She was eventually rushed by ambulance to the hospital where heroic attempts were made to save her. Unfortunately, those attempts came too late and the patient died. The cause of her death was bleeding from the surgical sites over many hours undetected or appreciated by the nurses.
Criticism of the defendants: this 7+hour surgery required that the patient be admitted to a hospital for post-operative observation and care. She was instead sent to an inadequate aftercare facility more akin to a hotel not a hospital. The nurses were overwhelmed with other patients, the facility had no remote monitoring equipment and were not able to observe her as frequently as needed. They failed to appreciate that she had ongoing and excessive bleeding from her surgical procedure as evidenced by the intense and unrelieved pain. They failed to take her vital signs as often as needed; they failed to insist that the surgeon attend to her in person.
All of the defendants involved in the patients care eventually paid their entire insurance policy amounts to settle the case for over 5 million dollars.
Of note re California law: 45 years ago, hospitals and medical insurance companies pushed through the California legislature a law restricting pain and suffering damages to $250,000 no matter how extreme the pain and suffering to the family. Doctors took advantage of this limitation by limiting their malpractice insurance coverage to only $1million. This case is an example of how defendants underpay patients who suffer from their negligence by buying inadequate insurance for the severity of damage they may cause. The medical and insurance industry gets the benefits; the patients suffer as a result.
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