One out of every 20 hospitalized patients will develop a hospital-associated infection (HAI), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These infections can be devastating; 100,000 each year die from them. If the infection was caused by hospital conditions or staff actions and resulted in substantial harm to the patients, they or their families may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
As a medical malpractice attorney, I get questions about lawsuits over hospital infections. Following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
What does HAI stand for?
HAI has been defined in several ways. It may refer to healthcare-associated infections, hospital-acquired infections, hospital-associated infections, or some variation thereof. All of these names refer to the same phenomenon – an infection that a patient acquires during the course of receiving healthcare treatment for other conditions.
What are the types of hospital acquired infections?
Infections associated with medical devices – catheters, central lines and ventilators – are the most common, accounting for about two-thirds of all HAIs. Other types of infections can occur after surgeries, called surgical infections. Another common infection is caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile, often referred to as C. diff, which causes serious gastrointestinal problems. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is another very serious type of infection that can develop as the result of a hospital stay.
When is the hospital considered at fault?
Hospitals are filled with germs, as are most public spaces. The problem is that sick people or those undergoing surgery are more vulnerable to infection from these germs. Hospitals know this and have many systems in place to protect patients from being exposed. But sometimes a hospital or staff cuts corners, gets sloppy or is just plain lax about patient safeguards. When this happens and patients suffer, the hospital and staff can be held accountable.
What if the hospital treats my infection?
If you develop an infection in the hospital, you should expect a quick diagnosis and aggressive treatment. Delayed diagnosis or treatment of a hospital-associated infection can result in a condition called sepsis, which is when the infection is spread by blood throughout the body, and septic shock, which can lead to death. If a diagnosis is delayed because you were not monitored properly or the correct treatment wasn’t given, the hospital and staff may be liable for the harm they caused. If you experienced no substantial harm from the infection, you would not have grounds for a lawsuit.
What if my infection is diagnosed after I leave the hospital?
If you are diagnosed with a serious infection within weeks of leaving the hospital, you should suspect that you were exposed in the hospital or in follow-up treatment after discharge. An attorney can get your medical records and examine them to determine if medical standards were followed and if a delayed diagnosis or treatment constituted medical negligence.
If I got an infection but I’m better now, can I still file a lawsuit?
Medical malpractice lawsuits are aimed at compensating patients or families who suffered substantial financial or other losses as the result of faulty care. Substantial loss usually means long-term or permanent disability or death.
What kind of lawyer is best suited to handle my hospital-associated infection lawsuit?
A lawyer who practices medical malpractice law and who has experience filing and winning hospital-associated infection lawsuits would be best suited to examine your case. My firm has more than 30 years’ experience in medical malpractice law and a history of substantial settlements and verdicts. Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC has attorneys admitted in eight states and the District of Columbia, and has represented clients in other states with court approval. If you’d like to speak to an attorney about your potential case, please send us an email.