Spine surgeries can go wrong fast. Doctors and their teams operate on bones, cartilage, nerves, and blood vessels close to the spinal cord, the delicate bundle of nerves that communicates messages between the brain and the body. One slip, one moment of inattention, one bad decision, can result in irreparable damage to the spinal cord.
A patient who went into surgery expecting to wake up healthier, in less pain, and more mobile can, instead, emerge from unconsciousness into a life disrupted by permanent paralysis and loss of sensation in any part of the body below the site of the spinal cord injury.
Victims of tragic medical errors in connection with spinal surgery have legal rights to compensation. They need skilled, experienced medical malpractice lawyers to help them get it.
Below, we discuss some of the considerations involved in seeking compensation for medical malpractice in spinal surgery. For detailed information about your legal rights after a spinal surgery gone wrong, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation.
Spine Surgery Medical Malpractice Statistics
The National Center for Biotechnology Information reported 234 legal cases involving medical malpractice in spine surgery over a twenty-seven year period. That may not seem like a lot of cases (and, no doubt, it undercounted them somewhat), but the number of lawsuits does not reflect the severe consequences to patients of an error in connection with spinal surgery. Those 234 cases represent tragic outcomes that upended the lives of the patients involved.
Of those cases, 19.6 percent, or 46 cases, resulted in a settlement. The injured won a jury verdict in trial 26.1 percent or 61, of the cases. The court ruled for the defendant in 54.2 percent, or 127 cases. When the patient prevailed, awards ranged from $134,000 to $38,323,196. Awards for settlements were considerably less—$125,000 to $9,000,000.
What can we take away from these statistics? First and foremost, we learn that spinal surgery medical malpractice cases require skilled and steady legal representation, because they are not always the easiest to win. It takes the talents of an attorney who understands the medical science of spinal injuries, the best practices of spinal surgery, and the law of medical malpractice, to give a client the best chance of a favorable outcome.
Second, we can learn that medical malpractice cases often involve significant amounts of damages. No lawyer can guarantee how much money a client might receive as compensation for a botched spinal surgery, of course. However, in cases where millions of dollars may come into play, injured spine surgery patients need skilled, knowledgeable legal representation guiding them at every step of the process—because the attorneys for the other side have a powerful economic incentive to fight against your claim.
About Medical Malpractice
Generally speaking, medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other medical professional fails to deliver the minimum medical standard of care to a patient and, as a result, the patient suffers harm. Medical malpractice can include a wide range of mistakes by medical providers, from failures to diagnose conditions to errors in the course of performing a procedure.
The medical standard of care that doctors and their teams must deliver is not a fixed concept. Instead, it can vary based on circumstances and conditions. For example, a patient with a complex health condition or a rare genetic disease may not be able to expect a family medicine doctor in a far-flung health care clinic is to be able to provide the same level of care that the same patient could get in a big-city research hospital.
However, when it comes to spine surgery, the standard of care should not vary much from case-to-case. Only experienced surgeons with well-trained teams should perform these surgeries. The range of acceptable deviations from the standard of care is narrow.
That does not mean, however, that proving medical malpractice is necessarily easy. Oftentimes, it requires careful investigation, thorough preparation, and detailed knowledge of medicine and the law. That is why victims of medical errors in spine surgeries should only trust their cases to experienced medical malpractice lawyers.
Examples of Spine Surgery Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice in connection with spine surgery can take many forms. Not all incidents of malpractice happen during the surgery itself. Many may happen in the periods before or after the surgery.
Here are a few examples of the types of circumstances that may lead to a medical malpractice claim in connection with spine surgery.
- Lack of informed consent. Medical providers must inform patients about the risks of a spine surgery procedure, and discuss other options and their risks so that the patient can make an informed decision about whether to proceed. A doctor who rushes through that consent process, or who obtains consent just minutes before a procedure begins, may not have provided adequate information to the patient for the patient to make a sufficiently-informed decision.
- Misdiagnosis. Doctors and their teams recommend surgeries based upon information they have about a patient’s health condition. Errors in connection with collecting and presenting that information can lead to misdiagnosis of the condition and, in turn, a doctor performing unnecessary or ill-advised surgery.
- Over-aggressive treatment. Spine surgeries come with some potentially extreme risks. In many cases, they should represent a last-resort when other treatment options have failed. Surgeons, however, sometimes have an inflated sense of the benefits their skills can deliver for a patient. They may also have financial incentives to perform surgeries. These considerations may get in the way of doing what is right for the patient by prompting a doctor to recommend spine surgery when a less aggressive treatment may work just as well.
- Surgical errors. Doctors and their teams can also make mistakes in the process of performing surgery. They may make an incision that is too deep, cut where they should not, sever a nerve, or cause unnecessary bleeding. Small errors in spine surgeries can have large consequences for patients. Doctors who do not take adequate care to avoid those errors commit malpractice.
- Post-operative care. Rehabilitation from spine surgery can require caution and attention from hospital staff. If the medical team fails to monitor the patient’s condition and progress after spine surgery, the patient may suffer from health complications far worse than those the surgery aimed to correct.
These are just some examples of how medical malpractice can occur in connection with spine surgery. Sometimes it is not easy to tell what error occurred during surgery. That is why any patient who has a negative health outcome after a spine surgery should consult right away with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who can investigate what happened and determine if a medical error was the cause.
Seeking Compensation for Medical Malpractice in Spine Surgery
Victims of medical malpractice in spine surgery wake up to find their lives upended by a medical team’s careless or reckless actions. Those victims have the right to seek compensation, but doing so is rarely as simple as, say, hiring a lawyer to represent them in a car accident claim.
The laws of most states contain detailed procedures that make filing a medical malpractice claim difficult and time-consuming. These laws result from a years-long effort by the medical industry lobby to cut down on medical malpractice lawsuits and raise their insurance premiums.
The legal hurdles standing in the way of patients injured by malpractice in connection with a spine surgery often include:
- Mandatory pre-lawsuit investigations and laws requiring patients’ lawyers to certify the reasonableness of the investigation and the claim;
- Mandatory certifications by medical experts that a malpractice claim has merit;
- Pre-lawsuit notification to medical providers of the potential for a claim;
- Obligations for patients to cooperate with a medical provider’s investigation in response to being notified of a potential claim;
- Mandatory pre-lawsuit settlement discussions; and
- Submitting a claim to a pre-lawsuit medical review board that can decide whether it has merit and can go forward.
These procedures differentiate medical malpractice lawsuits from other personal injury cases. For that reason, injured patients and their families should only ever entrust their claims to an experienced, knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer who knows how to jump through the necessary legal hoops to bring their claim forward.
A claim that clears the pre-lawsuit hurdles with the help of a skilled lawyer can often seek a wide variety of compensation on the patient’s behalf, including;
- Medical costs related to the injury caused by the spine surgery-related malpractice;
- Non-medical costs that flow from adapting to and living with the injury, such as home modifications and hiring help to accommodate a patient’s sudden paralysis;
- Past and future lost wages due to the patient missing work or never returning to work because of disabilities caused by the injury;
- Pain and suffering the patient endures because of the injury, including the emotional difficulties that diminish the patient’s quality of life and personal relationships; and
- In some cases, punitive damages that punish especially outrageous or wrongful conduct on the part of the spine surgery medical team.
Lawyers cannot promise results in a lawsuit. However, patients can give themselves the best chance of a favorable outcome in a medical malpractice case by hiring a skilled, experienced lawyer who knows the law and understands the science of spine surgery injuries.
Spine Surgery Medical Malpractice Settlements
Like many personal injury cases, a sizable portion of medical malpractice lawsuits involving spine surgeries ends in a negotiated settlement, which is an agreement between the injured patient and the medical provider accused of malpractice. In a typical settlement, the medical provider (or its insurance carrier) pays the injured patient a sum of money, and in exchange, the patient gives up further rights to sue the medical provider. A settlement, in other words, ends the patient’s legal claim.
It takes skill and experience to negotiate a successful settlement on behalf of an injured spine surgery patient. Unlike other personal injury settlement negotiations, in which the injured party’s lawyer can often decide when and how to proceed with talks to give his client maximum advantage, the law often requires settlement discussions at specific times.
Only a lawyer who understands the challenges and nuances of these mandatory talks, and of how to manage the client’s interests in them, can hope to come out on the other side with a favorable settlement offer or a strong basis for moving ahead with legal action.
How Spine Surgery Medical Malpractice Lawyers Get Paid
Medical malpractice in connection with a spine surgery inflicts severe physical, emotional, and financial difficulties on patients and their families. The last thing they need is the financial burden of paying for an expensive lawyer to represent them in a malpractice case.
Fortunately, they do not have to. Experienced medical malpractice lawyers offer free consultations for patients and their families, and will schedule that consultation around the patient’s needs. Lawyers will meet, for free, with clients at a hospital, at home, or in a rehabilitation facility, to learn about the patient’s case and to give the patient an initial assessment of the patient’s legal and financial rights.
Then, if the lawyer and patient agree to work together on a medical malpractice claim, the lawyer will virtually always do so on a contingent fee basis. This is an arrangement in which the lawyer’s fee consists of a percentage of the money the lawyer succeeds in obtaining on the patient’s behalf. The patient pays nothing to the lawyer upfront. The lawyer does not bill the patient as the case goes along. Instead, in the end, if (and only if) the lawyer delivers results, the lawyer keeps some of those proceeds as his fee.
Lawyers agree to work for spine surgery medical malpractice victims on this basis because it makes their services affordable to anyone who needs them. All victims of medical malpractice deserve top-quality legal representation; not just the victims who have big bank accounts.
Contact an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Medical malpractice in connection with spine surgery can upend a patient’s life. If you find yourself in that unfortunate position, contact an experienced, skilled medical malpractice lawyer today for a free case consultation to learn about your legal and financial rights.