Medical Malpractice: "Known Complication" versus Preventable Medical Errors

Current Leading Causes of Death in the US

The total number of premature deaths from Preventable Medical Errors is estimated at 400,000 per year and about 4-8 Million Serious Harms occur to patients every year from Preventable Medical Errors. See Medical Journal of Patient Safety, article of Estimate of Patient Harms.

As a St Louis medical malpractice lawyer, anytime we handle a medical negligence case for an injured patient,  the first things you hear from the doctor’s, hospital’s, or nurse’s lawyer is that the error was a “known complication” and therefore, they will claim, that the fact it happened means no health care provider was negligent because it is a “known complication”. Based on  this logic there would be no such thing as medical malpractice and healthcare providers would never be held accountable for sub-standard patient care and preventable medical errors that lead to serious injury or death. Death is a “known complication” of just about every medical procedure, however, death if oftentimes the result of a preventable medical error, about 44% of the time!

Think about it…. being hit by a driver running a red light is a “known complication” when any of us drive through any intersection; this does not absolve the driver that ran the light of being responsible for the damage caused when they  broke a rule of the road and ran a red light just because it is a “known complication” or a known risk of driving. We expect other drivers to follow the rules of the road and be responsible for the harm caused when they do not.

Same in medical care, there are rules of medicine and rules patient safety that must be followed, and when these patient safety rules are not followed and a patient is harmed, the health care provider is responsible.

The key question to most medical negligence cases is not if a bad result is a known complication, but if the bad result would have been avoided had the healthcare provider acted as they were supposed to. This is what we call a “Preventable Error”, would the error or bad outcome been prevented had the surgeon identified what he was cutting before he cut it instead of guessing? would the bad outcome or preventable error been avoided if the nurse checked the patient’s allergies before giving them medicine they are allergic to instead of assuming they are not? etc….

Physician review boards have recently estimated that “44% of serious medical events were preventable”. That means 44% of those claimed “known complications” were negligent medical errors that could have been prevented had the healthcare provider followed the patient safety rules and provided appropriate medical care.

The high rate of preventable medical errors must be made part of any medical malpractice case to help defeat the defense claims of unfair lawsuits against doctors. Every defense lawyers makes this argument and many potential jurors believe it, so it is an issue you must take head on. Additionally, many potential jurors will side with the healthcare provider simply based on the “known complication” argument. A good medical negligence lawyer knows that claimed “known complications” are a red herring, that preventable medical error is the issue that must be decided.

Injured by a doctor or healthcare provider’s error? call Missouri medical malpractice attorney for a free consultation (314) 863-0500, or contact us submit your Medical negligence case online for a free review.