The medical field is one subject to constant scrutiny and research, leading to frequent changes in standards and expectations—and for good reason. When patients see a medical professional, whether it’s for something as minor as a checkup or as major as emergency surgery, they should be able to feel confident that their practitioner has the skills and decision-making capabilities to keep them safe. When this system breaks down, either due to a practitioner’s action or inaction, patients can seek compensation with a medical malpractice case. A recent medical malpractice case in the Boston area brought closure to a family that suffered due to a 10-year-old error.
Emergency Room Visit Leaves Family Without Answers
In April 2009, Anna Coelho was 18 months old. Her parents brought her to the emergency room with possible dehydration caused by vomiting. After performing a chest X-ray, radiologist Dr. William Denison gave his diagnosis—bronchiolitis or atypical pneumonia.
However, he didn’t identify Coelho’s underlying issue: an enlarged heart caused by myocarditis. That is the basis of the Coelho family’s claim against Dr. William Denison.
Long-Term Impact on the Patient
Anna Coelho has experienced significant issues as a result of her untreated myocarditis. She suffered cardiac arrest and heart failure. Both of these issues led to severe, permanent neurological injury. Per her attorney, Coelho’s neurological injury has left the 11-year-old developmentally similar to a 4-year-old.
Negligence on the Part of the Radiologist
According to Coelho’s lawyer, Dr. Denison was negligent when he failed to identify Coelho’s enlarged heart. The jury agreed with Coelho’s attorney, who alleged that the harm suffered by Coelho was preventable and that the radiologist should have noticed her heart issue on the X-ray. The family received an award of $11.5 million, due to the lifelong nature of Coelho’s injuries and the long-term care she’ll likely need with her developmental issues.
Radiology in Medical Malpractice
This case highlights a number of important facts in the world of medical malpractice. Radiology is number 7 on the list of top 10 medical specialties for lawsuits, falling in line behind high-risk specialties like OB/GYN, surgery, and orthopedics. Per the report, 70% of radiologists are sued at some point during their career. Due to the extremely high rate of lawsuits in this and other specialties, practitioners pay exceptionally high malpractice insurance rates. As a result, patients are able to seek compensation when they do not receive appropriate care from care providers.
Additionally, this case has something in common with many other medical malpractice cases—it alleges a lack of action or attentiveness on the part of the doctor, not incorrect action. When many people think about medical malpractice, they think of alarming cases where a doctor removes the wrong limb, leaves medical supplies inside a patient, or operates on the incorrect patient. In reality, many cases involve patients whose symptoms were ignored by a doctor, patients who did not receive timely care from a practitioner, and patients whose doctors did not respond appropriately to the severity of their condition.
To determine whether or not a healthcare practitioner was negligent in their care, medical malpractice attorneys look at whether or not a patient would have received the same care from another reasonable medical provider under the same circumstances.
While this case did go to court, many are settled out of court. In many situations, a settlement benefits both the wronged patient and the negligent caregiver, minimizing the patient’s attorney fees and limiting the time spent in deliberations. In this case, the court case lasted two weeks and jury deliberations took an additional two days.