In the legal system, evidence is a significant piece of a complex puzzle. One of the questions our attorneys are frequently asked is “how important is physical evidence in medical malpractice cases?” Let’s look at what physical evidence is and how it relates to medical malpractice.
What is Physical Evidence?
Physical evidence refers to objects that are observable. In terms of medical malpractice, evidence can range from paper reports, medical records, formal diagnosis or treatment, photographs, and physical injuries. But what about physical evidence, such as an injury, proof of a retained object, or even a body part? It may sound grotesque, but physical evidence in medical malpractice cases may include the often overlooked.
Consider the following example case:
Recently, the Seattle Times published a story about a man who fell from the roof of his home severely injuring his leg. His plummet to the concrete 20 feet below resulted in a shattered tibia. The man was treated at a local Veteran’s Affairs (VA) hospital, where surgeries and treatment spanned more than two years after the accident. Treatment included installation of screws, metal plates, and infused bone grafts followed by rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Unfortunately, the more treatment he received, the more pain he felt. After more than two years, he decided to seek treatment outside the VA hospital. The result was a decision to amputate his leg in order to relieve his suffering. A year following the amputation, a lawsuit was filed against the federal government for medical negligence on the part of the VA doctors. The lawsuit claimed that the VA surgeons botched the surgeries designed to repair the shattered tibia, and the result was misplaced and broken hardware.
The VA hospital has denied any wrongdoing in the case, but recently discovered physical evidence could break the case wide open. In the months following the lawsuit being filed, the patient informed his attorney that he tried to do something good out of his situation by donating his leg to a forensic organization that uses cadaver materials to train search and rescue dogs. His attorney was stunned. His client’s amputated limb had been preserved (frozen) by the organization and was still intact.
Rather than relying on medical records, X-rays, and medical reports, the claims of negligence just might be proven by retrieving the amputated limb. So, a forensic pathologist was brought in to conduct a videotaped exam of the limb. The results of the exam indicated that the orthopedic screws placed in the patients’ ankle had caused nerve damage and exacerbated the injuries.
Never Underestimate or Overlook Evidence
The example case above may seem like a bizarre, rare occurrence, but the truth is, amputations occur frequently in hospitals all over the United States for various reasons. It is not always possible for the limbs to be preserved or stored, but this case serves as an example of the importance of patients, their families, and their attorneys never underestimating or overlooking evidence.
In medical malpractice cases, physical evidence of an illness or injury can be difficult to come by. Some of the reasons for this include:
- Patients may not realize they have been harmed until weeks, months, or even years following negligent medical care.
- Patients who have been harmed by an adverse medical event will seek additional treatment, but it may not be linked to medical negligence.
- Medical records and complaints are often completed by the doctor, which can result in incorrect documentation of negligence.
These are some of the reasons why it is imperative that patients be in charge of their medical care and get help as soon as they suspect that medical malpractice or negligence has occurred.
How to Protect Your Health and Legal Rights
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been harmed due to medical malpractice or negligence, there are some things you can do to help protect your legal rights and avoid further harm. Consider the following:
- Keep copies of any correspondence between you and your doctor
- Request a copy of your medical records and keep them in a safe place
- Get a second opinion about a diagnosis or treatment that seems “off”
- Contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your legal rights are protected
At Brown Wharton & Brothers, our attorneys and staff work hard to make sure that every aspect of your case is thoroughly reviewed. We work closely with medical professionals to be certain that your health and legal rights both are a priority as you work through a medical malpractice claim.
To learn more about your rights as a patient, or to start finding answers to your medical malpractice questions, contact Brown Wharton & Brothers today. Complete our online form to schedule your free case review with one of our skilled medical malpractice attorneys.