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Medical Negligence: Cardiovascular Claims

Like any other area of medical malpractice law, physicians treating and diagnosing cardiovascular conditions are held to an appropriate standard of care, and any negligent error causing injury may warrant a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most cases in this area involve a delay in the diagnosis of the condition or improper urgency undertaken by the medical team.
In more limited cases, lawsuits can be brought concerning the misinterpretation of diagnostic tools like an ECG or the negligent treatment of the cardiovascular event following diagnosis.  This could include the failure to diagnose a stroke with enough time for clot busting drugs to be effective or the failure to perform prompt surgery following an aortic aneurism.
It is critical to address cardiovascular problems in a timely manner, given that cardiovascular issues may lead to sudden death. Therefore, when a patient presents with symptoms that might be caused by a cardiovascular problem but also might be caused by something less critical, the physician may have a responsibility to first determine that the patient is not suffering from a cardiovascular issue. This is the “worst first” principle. A doctor must rule out potential diagnoses in order of the seriousness of the condition not the probability of the condition.
It is also critical to catch cardiovascular disease quickly because many of the conditions can be fixed or improved with timely intervention. With many forms of cardiovascular illness, early detection and treatment can significantly impact the patient’s long-term quality of life. If a doctor fails to detect symptoms or recognize complaints that would lead a reasonable doctor to diagnose the condition or event, then the patient may be deprived of treatment options which could lead to a recovery.  This could form the basis of a successful medical malpractice lawsuit.

The standard of care test is the same in this area as it is in other medical malpractice areas, meaning the patient must establish that the doctor, or other health care provider, acted below a reasonable standard of care for their specialty.  If a patient’s care is found to be inadequate when measured against this standard, they can prove this first element of medical negligence.

Some of the common types of medical malpractice cardiovascular claims include the following:

Failure to Diagnose Heart Disease or Heart Attack

  • A physician may fail to order tests such as blood work, imaging, or ECGs, which can diagnose heart disease or a heart attack. Such tests may be indicated by the patient’s family history or symptoms such as chest pain with exertion.  The plaintiff may claim that the physician should have diagnosed the heart disease earlier and intervened to slow its progression.

Failure to Diagnose Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

  • An Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm is a bulge or bubble in the wall of the abdominal aorta. If the bulge becomes too large and ruptures, the patient will most likely not survive. These claims are often brought by the family members of the deceased and often involve the argument that the deceased was presenting with symptoms which should have prompted imaging to rule out an AAA. If an AAA is caught early patients at risk of rupture can have surgery to prevent rupture. Sometimes, the AAA is discovered when the bulge is smaller, and it may be appropriate to regularly monitor the bulge rather than proceed with surgery

Failure Diagnose Blood Vessel Occlusion/Compartment Syndrome 

  • After suffering a traumatic limb injury, a plaintiff may develop a clot blocking a blood vessel in the limb. Trauma can also cause fluid build-up in the tissue surrounding the muscle. This may compress the tissues such that oxygen is not being delivered. In either case, it is important to diagnosis the problem in a timely fashion because if blood flow is not restored promptly, the tissue may die. The patient may require surgery to remove the clot or a fasciotomy to release the pressure from fluid build-up. A plaintiff may claim a doctor was negligent for failing to promptly diagnose and treat the problem.

Failure to Diagnose Deep Vein Thrombosis/Pulmonary Embolism

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a clot develops in the deep veins of the body, typically in the legs. DVT may not cause any symptoms but often presents as pain, swelling, skin discoloration, and a feeling of warmth in the affected leg. A plaintiff may claim that the defendant physician should have suspected a DVT and ordered blood tests and imaging to rule it out. A DVT can be life-threatening because the blood clot may dislodge and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE). Once a DVT is diagnosed, it may be treated with blood thinner to prevent the development of new clots and growth of existing clots. In more severe cases a patient may require thrombolytics or surgery to install a filter.

Failure to Diagnose Endocarditis 

  • Endocarditis is inflammation of the heart lining and is often caused by a bacterial infection. It can have many sources including dental infections, strep throat, and indwelling catheters. Patients with endocarditis often present with flu-like symptoms before progressing to more serious symptoms. Bacterial endocarditis is treated with antibiotics. If this is ineffective, the patient may require surgery. A plaintiff may allege that the defendant doctor failed to diagnose and treat the endocarditis in a timely fashion. Severe disease may lead to heart failure, stroke, or multi-organ failure.

Surgical Errors

  • In any type of surgery, errors can be made with respect to whether the patient was an appropriate candidate for surgery and whether surgery occurred in a timely fashion. Errors can also occur during the surgery itself. If complications arise, a patient may have a claim against the surgeon. If the patient was not an appropriate candidate for the surgery or the complication was the result of a negligent surgical technique, that patient will be able to show that the complication would have been avoided with appropriate care. A patient may also have a claim where a complication, which was a recognized risk of the procedure, occurred during the procedure, and the surgeon failed to recognize and treat it in a timely fashion. 

If you or a loved one have suffered cardiovascular complications and want to speak to a medical malpractice lawyer about a potential claim you can contact our team here

By Michael Shepherd