For numerous reasons, hospital infections are increasing, and so are medical malpractice lawsuits that claim hospital infections are to blame, from a staph infection causing kidney damage to a flesh-eating bacteria (from an infection) causing death. Alarmingly, and despite hospital arguments, most of these infections are preventable. All too frequently patients are admitted to hospital to be cured and find they are sicker than before: hospitals are making people ill.
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According to the website Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID), a non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives, hospital infections kill more Americans each year than AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 100,000 people died of a hospital-acquired infection in 2002, though experts believe the number is actually higher.
"There are about two million people who acquire infections in the hospital each year and become sick," said Dr. Barry Farr, an infectious disease expert in Charlottesville, VA. "Most don't die, but some do."
The Committee RID says that as late as 2004, hospitals didn't need to tell the public of its infection and government agencies did little to deal with the problem. In recent years however, twenty-six states and The District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring hospitals to disclose infection rates to the public.
Historically, the belief was that infections were unavoidable and hospitals were not liable. Now, hospital infections are said to be the next asbestos.
Hospital infections are preventable if hospital staff are trained in the correct procedures and required to follow them. Thankfully, hygiene and infection prevention in many hospitals have become a priority, possibly in part because evidence shows that nearly all hospital infections are preventable when doctors and staff clean their hands and follow other infection prevention measures.
This evidence has put hospitals at greater risk of medical malpractice lawsuits, namely hospital infection lawsuits. And hospitals that don't implement precautions will likely face more lawsuits. This means that, if a jury believes a hospital failed to enforce hand hygiene rules and implement necessary infection prevention practices, it could potentially be found negligent and held liable, even strictly liable in some cases, for patients' infections.
Countries such as Holland, Finland and Denmark, and a few hospitals in the US have almost eradicated drug-resistant infections, such as staph infections. Incredibly,
most other hospitals in the US don't routinely test incoming patients for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium responsible for difficult-to-treat infections in humans.
In some hospitals, MRSA is rampant—it is very easy to contract. A study by Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology reports that if you are placed in a
room previously occupied by a patient with MRSA, your risk of infection increases, because the bacteria linger on floors and furniture long after the patient carrying these bacteria is discharged. As well, 70 to 90 percent of patients carrying MRSA are never identified.
Lawsuits that penalize those who violate hand-hygiene rules and fail to screen incoming patients for MRSA, combined with the correct implementation of precautions, may be the best way to improve patient care and prevent hospital infections.
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Last updated on Mar-30-11
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