Sepsis Misdiagnosis: What Compensation Can Victims Recover in Texas?

Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency that far too often goes misdiagnosed or untreated until it’s too late. When physicians and nurses fail to timely diagnose and treat sepsis, patients can face serious complications including organ failure, amputations, and even death. For families left dealing with the devastating aftermath of sepsis malpractice, the civil justice system may provide an avenue for recovering needed compensation.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency that arises when the body’s response to infection causes widespread inflammation and organ dysfunction or failure. In severe cases, sepsis can lead to septic shock, a dramatic drop in blood pressure that can be fatal.

Some of the signs and symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • High heart rate

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 1.7 million American adults develop sepsis each year and nearly 270,000 die as a result.

The Surviving Sepsis Campaign

Given the high prevalence and mortality rate of sepsis, in 2002, a group of international experts launched the Surviving Sepsis Campaign with the goal of reducing sepsis deaths worldwide. A key component of this effort has been developing evidence-based guidelines and protocols for the early detection and treatment of sepsis by the entire doctors and nurses.

Sepsis can happen to anyone. Read our article about how a professional tennis player, former Olympian dies of sepsis.

The most recent Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines, published in 2021, provide detailed recommendations and best practices for screening and rapidly treating patients with sepsis and septic shock. The guidelines emphasize the critical importance of early recognition and treatment, stating:

Sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies, and we recommend that treatment and resuscitation begin immediately.”

According to the guidelines, if sepsis is even suspected, blood cultures should be obtained prior to starting antibiotics, which should be administered as soon as possible and within one hour. Delays in antibiotic administration have been associated with increased sepsis mortality (deaths).

Learn how post-operative infections, sepsis can trigger a stroke.

How do hospitals misdiagnose sepsis?

Despite the well-established Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines, many hospitals, physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses continue to miss sepsis diagnoses far too frequently. [Studies estimate that sepsis is misdiagnosed in U.S. hospitals 15-35% of the time](

One study found that in patients whose sepsis was missed upon admission to the hospital, the risk of death was twice as high compared to patients whose sepsis was properly diagnosed and treated from the start.

In my experience as a Texas medical malpractice attorney, the primary reasons why doctors and hospitals fail to diagnose sepsis are:

  • Not considering sepsis as a potential diagnosis
  • Failing to recognize and respond to signs/symptoms
  • Delaying diagnostic bloodwork and lab tests
  • Delaying administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Poor communication between doctors and nurses

These missteps and delays can have catastrophic consequences for patients. Once sepsis progresses to septic shock, a patient’s risk of death exceeds 40 percent.

What are the damages available under Texas law?

When sepsis is misdiagnosed or improperly treated because of medical negligence, and serious injury or death results, the patient or surviving family members may have grounds for a Texas medical malpractice lawsuit. Through a lawsuit, plaintiffs can seek compensation for economic and non-economic damages related to the malpractice.

In Texas, economic damages that may be recoverable include:

  • Past medical bills for sepsis treatment and complications
  • Expected future medical expenses
  • Past lost wages related to sepsis complications
  • Expected loss of future earning capacity

Non-economic damages may also be recoverable for intangible losses such as physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, physical impairment, disfigurement, and loss of consortium.

In 2003, Texas enacted tort reform laws that capped non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. For a single healthcare institution, non-economic damages are capped at $250,000. If there are multiple defendant institutions, the total aggregate cap is $500,000. A separate non-economic damages cap of $250,000 is available if at least one physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

While these caps limit the amount of non-economic damages that malpractice victims can recover, there are no caps on economic damages in Texas. An experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney can thoroughly investigate economic losses and retained experts to calculate both past and future economic damages.

What should you do if you suspect sepsis malpractice?

Sepsis is a ticking time bomb and delayed treatment can mean the difference between life and death.

Learn what needs to happen when doctors and nurses suspect sepsis. Read our article in how a nursing home patient dies from bone-deep bedsores, urinary tract infection, and sepsis.

If you believe that you or a loved one may be the victim of sepsis malpractice in Texas, consider taking these steps:

  1. Contact an experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney right away to discuss your potential case. Be aware that Texas has a two-year statute of limitations on medical negligence claims in most cases.

  2. Gather all medical records related to the patient’s care and sepsis diagnosis/treatment. The hospital has a legal duty to provide these records upon written request.

  3. Keep detailed notes of your recollections about the patient’s signs/symptoms, how healthcare providers responded, and relevant dates.

  4. Do not give any statements to representatives of the hospital, doctors, or their insurance companies before speaking with your attorney.

Discover more about sepsis awareness and medical malpractice.

Taking prompt action is crucial, as hospitals will often begin working to defend against potential malpractice claims immediately after an adverse event. An experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer can help sepsis survivors and families understand their legal rights and options for holding negligent providers accountable.

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.