One of the most common questions we hear from potential clients at Painter Law Firm is whether a bad outcome amounts to medical malpractice or is legally actionable.
While news of a poor result or complication isn’t welcomed by anyone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a hospital, physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or registered nurse did anything wrong. On the other hand, just because the informed consent paperwork lists things that could potentially go wrong with a treatment or surgery doesn’t mean that a bad outcome isn’t medical malpractice.
Under Texas law, the determination of whether medical malpractice occurred is linked to the standard of care. The standard of care is what a reasonably prudent physician or provider would’ve done under the same or similar circumstances.
For example, we’re currently working on a case involving the death of a man in his 50s at a Houston area hospital. Let’s call him John.
John went to the hospital emergency room (ER) because he had severe chest pain. He was quickly diagnosed with the non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) and was given pain medications, including morphine and nitroglycerin, to relieve his chest pain. In the meantime, they schedule him for a cardiac catheterization procedure the next day.
The standard of care for chest pain requires the nursing staff to notify a physician if medication doesn’t completely relieve the chest pain. In other words, it’s not enough that nitroglycerin reduces it from a level of 10 to a level of 3.
If a hospitalist or cardiologist is aware of an NSTEMI having chest pain that won’t go away with medication, the standard of care requires referral to an interventional cardiologist for an urgent trip to the cardiac catheterization lab for a procedure.
John’s chest pain just wouldn’t go away. Yet, the nursing staff never notified a physician.
Because the nurses kept the hospitalists and cardiologist in the dark about John’s chest pain, he didn’t get the urgent medical attention that he needed and died before he was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab as scheduled the next day.
In John’s case, it’s easy enough to link the sub-standard nursing care to the damages, meaning his death. If the nurses had kept the physicians informed, John would have gotten the medical care he needed. He would’ve survived.
It’s not always so straightforward to link a mistake to the outcome, though.
In order to have a viable medical malpractice claim under Texas law, it’s not enough that a physician or healthcare provider made a mistake. That mistake has to cause harm to the patient. Under law, this is called proximate causation.
A top-rated Texas medical malpractice attorney can help you sort through the facts of your particular case to see if a medical mistake can be linked to harm, damages, or even death.