Kidney failure and medical malpractice for dialysis?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “My mother has been on dialysis three days a week. A few weeks ago her stomach was hurting, and she was throwing up dark blood. She died a few days later. I don’t think the doctor was giving her proper care. What are my options? When is a situation like this medical malpractice?”

Individuals can develop kidney failure for a variety of reasons: poorly controlled diabetes, poorly controlled high blood pressure or other chronic kidney disorders. Currently, it’s estimated that more than 340,000 Americans are being treated for End-Stage Renal Disease, or kidney failure. Of this number, more than 240,000 receive dialysis to survive.

Although many of these individuals receive qualify medical care, some doctors and clinics do not provide adequate care, resulting in injury or death for these patients.

Kidney failure and substandard quality of care

Although hundreds of thousands of patients receive dialysis each year, America’s clinics and hospitals have come under fire for reportedly offering substandard care to many dialysis patients. Common issues which have been studied include:

  • Failure to have doctor on site at many clinics
  • Failure to employ a full-time nurse at certain clinics
  • Substandard medical supervision
  • Dangerous lapses in treatment
  • Unsanitary conditions in treatment facilities

Other severe kidney problems can also occur prior to dialysis if a doctor fails to address kidney issues too late or place the patient on dialysis. Doctors may also fail to monitor patients closely enough or patients may go to clinics which are contaminated, increasing their risk of acquiring a life-threatening infection.

When do I have a medical malpractice case?

You mentioned your mother may have passed away due to medical malpractice or lack of care on the part of the doctor. While this may be the case, it’s important to understand that proving medical malpractice can be very difficult.

Doctors and hospitals are morally and legally required to practice medicine with reasonable skill and care. If you believe, however, that your mother’s doctor provided substandard care and your mother may have died from her doctor’s intentional, unintentional, or negligent actions, you may have the legal right to file a medical malpractice against the doctor.

To win your case, however, you will have to prove certain elements of the claim: 1) the medical professional owed your mother a duty of care; 2) the duty of care was breached; 3) the breach was the proximate cause of medical injury; 4) your mother suffered loss or injury.

What is Breach of Care?

It’s generally easy to prove a doctor who is caring for a patient owed them a duty of care, proving breach of care, however, is much more difficult.

To prove breach of care you will have to provide evidence that the doctor or medical professional deviated from the norms of practice of the medical community for treating kidney failure, and the standard of care provided for your mother’s condition what different than what a “reasonable person” or another doctor in a similar circumstance would have done.

Breach of care, however, can be proven if you have evidence that the doctor did any of the following:

The doctor’s breach was the proximate cause of the injury

Next, if you are able to prove the doctor did breach their duty of care, you will have to prove it was this breach of duty which led to your mother’s death. Proving that the breach was the proximate cause of injury can be difficult. This is especially true for a patient receiving medical treatment for a life-threatening health condition. The defense is likely to provide evidence to the court to counter your claims and may be able to prove that your mother’s death resulted from any number of other medical issues.

Finally, you will have to prove that the doctor’s breach led to injury or death. In your mother’s case proving loss is easy because your mother is dead, but as mentioned above, proving that her death was the result of a breach of duty may be tough.

Bottom Line:

You could potentially have a case for medical malpractice but you will need to talk to a medical malpractice lawyer to find out for sure.

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