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Study finds physicians rarely pay for medical errors

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that surgical mistakes and other forms of medical malpractice often don't lead to a payout for the victim. This is true in New York and across the country.

Often it is difficult for patients to pursue a malpractice suit because it can be prohibitively expensive, but those who do may not be compensated in the end. The study showed that most doctors never make a payment. However, the fact remains that surgical mistakes do happen, and those mistakes change lives forever.

In 2003, a woman went into a Davenport, Iowa hospital for a simple procedure, but a surgical mistake nearly killed her when the surgeon punctured two holes in the woman's bladder. The error led to a severe infection and a flesh-eating virus. The woman lost all muscle control and spent months recovering. She even had to learn how to walk and talk again. After her recovery, the woman was left to deal with permanent injuries and chronic pain.

The woman successfully sued her doctor for his error and won enough of a settlement to pay for medical expenses amounting to nearly $2 million and to take care of her two children. The woman died in August of ovarian cancer. Her attorney says the cancer was likely caused by the excessive amount of x-rays she required since her initial surgery eight years ago.

Twenty-seven states across the country have put a cap on medical malpractice suits, allowing them to top out at $250,000. While some support this, others would argue that dollar amount doesn't allow patients to pay for their medical bills and may not cover any additional compensation for the error.

Not all situations are as severe as the above mentioned case, though many Americans in New York and elsewhere die every year as a result of surgical mistakes. The Institute of Medicine says close to 100,000 people die each year because of medical errors. A person suspecting doctor error may find it beneficial to consult with a medical malpractice attorney to assess liability.

Source: Eastern Iowa News, "Compensation is difficult to get for patients harmed by medical errors," Trish Mehaffey, Oct. 25, 2011

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