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Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania died last week at Bethesda Naval Hospital as a result of complications following gallbladder surgery. While it is not possible to comment on the medical care rendered to Congressman Murtha without a thorough review of his medical records, it can be said that “complications” from gallbladder surgery can often be the result of medical negligence.In order to understand what may have happened to Congressman Murtha, you have to understand the anatomy of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ that secrets bile into biliary system to aid in breakdown of food. The gallbladder is a sac that attaches to a structure called the cystic duct. The most common complication associated with gallbladder surgery are cutting the wrong structure and severing the biliary tree. Nearly as common is perforating one of the surrounding structures, usually the small intestine, although perforations to the colon are also common. Less common are perforations of the bladder.In Congressman Murtha’s case, it appears that there was a perforation of his small intestine. Can this happen in the absence of negligence? Absolutely. Sometimes a perforation can occur when the surgeon is taking down scar tissue, called adhesions. However, such perforation must be recognized and addressed at the time of surgery. Failing to find and repair perforations during surgery can be negligence or medical malpractice.Often, the real case for malpractice is when the surgeon fails to recognize that a perforation has occurred. In the event of a peroration during surgery, particularly of the small intestine and colon, the result is usually an infection or sepsis. The most common symptoms or complaints following a perforation are severe abdominal pain, fever, elevated white blood count, and x-rays showing air accumulations in the abdomen. If any or all of these are present, the doctor should be considering whether a perforation has occurred. In that case, exploratory surgery is almost always indicated.Delays in treating perforations can lead to massive infections and death. Those that survive these infections can be left with damage to their bowels and bladder and ongoing abdominal pain.

The Illinois Supreme Court has declared legislation imposing a limit, or “cap,” on the amount that a jury can award to the victims of medical malpractice is unconstitutional. In Lebron v Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, the Court held that “statutory caps violate the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution and declared the entire Act invalid.”The case represents a major victory for civil justice. By declaring that a legislature cannot substitute its judgment for that of a jury of citizens, the Illinois Supreme Court has joined a growing number of state supreme courts who have deemed such legislation unconstitutional, or otherwise invalidated such acts.In order to understand what this decision means, it is important to understand what so-called “tort reform” acts “cap.” These acts place a limit, or cap, on what a jury can award in any case for non-monetary damages. These are damages for loss of a normal life, pain and suffering. By placing a uniform limit on these damages, legislatures have, in effect, said that those who are harmed the most should not receive compensation for their losses. The Lebron case is a perfect example:The Lebrons filed suit for injuries their child received during delivery, including severe brain injury, cerebral palsy and cognitive mental impairment. Because of the negligence of the doctor and nurses involved, Abigaile Lebron will never develop normally and will be fed by tube for the rest of her life. And Abigaile is exactly the type of victim of medical malpractice who deserves compensation and, due to tort reform, is exactly the type of patient who is most affected by caps. Because caps act to limit only non-monetary damages, it is the young, the old and those who have low earnings who are most affected by caps. If a 50 year old banker making $250,000 a year is left in the same condition as a 1 year old, that 50 year old banker will be able to show earnings losses in the millions of dollars, in addition to past and future medical bills. But, if the same thing happens to an infant, that infant has no earning history, so it is difficult or impossible to establish those lost earnings. Thus, with caps in place, hospitals and doctors consistently devalue loss of life and injury to the very young and the very old.The Illinois Supreme Court made the right, and just, decision.

“Stacking”-sounds like something you do with firewood or kid’s blocks. But in personal injury and automobile accident cases, it may mean more money available for the injured victim. Stacking” refers to multiplying the available insurance coverage by the number of insurance policies. Under Missouri law, uninsured motorist coverage has “stacked” for many years. An example will help to make this clear(er):If you are injured in an accident with an uninsured motorist, and you have auto insurance in Missouri, by law you have at least $25,000 in uninsured motorist coverage. However, if your injuries are severe, $25,000 doesn’t go far. But, if you have more than one policy, the coverage stacks. For example, if you have 3 policies, you would have at least $75,000 in uninsured motorist coverage.While this has been the law in Missouri for years, liability policies have not stacked. Liability coverage is that coverage which is purchased to cover injuries caused by a driver. Again, Missouri law requires that every driver carry at least $25,000 in coverage. In a decision handed down by the Missouri Supreme Court last week, the Court has declared for the first time that such coverage stacks, at least to the amount of the statutory minimum coverage. Again, an example may make this clearer:If you are injured by a driver who has liability insurance, the maximum the insurance company will be required to pay (if your damages support such an amount) is the sum of the policy limit on the involved vehicle, plus the minimum $25,000 coverage existing on each other insured vehicle. So, if the vehicle involved in the collision has a policy limit of $50,000 per accident, but has 2 other vehicles insured, then you may be able to collect up to $100,000 from that insurer ($50,000 + $25,000 + $25,000).This is a major change in Missouri law that clearly benefits victims of motor vehicle crashes. If you or a family member has been injured in an auto crash, please call The Law Offices of Todd N. Hendrickson for a free consultation at 314-721-8833.