A recent Cook County medical malpractice lawsuit against Chicago’s Advocate Trinity Hospital received an award of over $3.6 million. The Chicago medical negligence case involved the death of a two-year-old boy and was tried under the principles of res ipsa loquitur.
Res ipsa loquitur is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself” and is used in legal terms to refer to a situation where it’s assumed that an injury, in this case death, is caused by the negligence of another person. Underlying the principle of res ipsa loquitur is the assumption that the accident/injury could not have occurred unless someone was negligent.
In this recent Cook County medical negligence case, the negligence centered on the death of a two-year-old boy. The child was brought to Advocate Trinity Hospital by his parents. Of note was that his mother was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and his father was a paramedic. The boy was brought to the ER for treatment of his first and only grand mal seizure.
When his seizure was controlled, the hospital staff elected to do further monitoring in an attempt to identify its cause by obtaining a CT scan. During the scan the infant became hypoventilated, i.e. he was not getting enough oxygen. However, no one noticed his respiratory distress because the monitors he was on had stopped working. When he was brought back from the CT scan to the ER he was already dead. It was estimated that he had already been dead for five minutes before the staff began its unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him.
Under the principles of res ipsa loquitur, the infant’s death was presumably the result of the hospital’s negligence. If its medical staff had noted the decedent’s respiratory distress in a timely fashion then they might have been able to take measures to prevent his death. For example, upon noticing that they decedent was undergoing respiratory distress he could have been given oxygen. Or if the medical staff had noticed that he was in cardiac arrest they could have called a code much earlier, instead of attempting to resuscitate the decedent almost five minutes after his demise.
Likewise the failure of the monitoring equipment falls more under an administration issue than a purely medical issue. However, the hospital should have had policies and procedures in place to ensure that its equipment worked. The assumption that the various monitors were working presumably played a large part in the staff’s failure to notice the boy’s deterioration and played a role in his eventual death. Had there been better safeguards against the equipment failing this tragedy might have been avoided.
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