A woman who suffered from Chron's disease died after an Arizona hospital did not give her a CT scan for 10 hours after she came to the emergency room, apparently because the hospital was short of staff. The woman had a perforation of her bowel, a serious condition that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Her widowed husband, on behalf of himself and his children, sued the hospital and several of the doctors who treated his late wife for wrongful death, claiming in essence that their failure to diagnose and failure to provide treatment for his wife's condition caused her to die unnecessarily.
Presumably, a prompt CT scan would have saved the woman's life. However, the technician operating the CT machine was out sick that day, and the hospital had no protocol for contacting backup. Also, there was only one on-call surgeon for the entire hospital when the woman arrived, and the lack of additional available surgeons delayed her treatment.
Although the hospital initially claimed that it bore no direct responsibility for the woman's death because the doctors were not hospital employees, the hospital and two of the treating physicians settled the case for an unspecified amount. One doctor, who treated the woman initially when she came to the emergency room, took his case to trial. The jury found him 5 percent at fault for the woman's death, possibly because he had ordered an immediate CT scan.
While hospitals can be busy places with relatively few staff to meet emergent patient needs, the hospital and the treating physicians still have an obligation to provide an appropriate and timely diagnosis and treatment to a patient. If they fail to do so, then they may have to pay compensation on account of their medical negligence. For both doctors and the hospitals in which they work, the upshot is that medical providers need to ensure that they have sufficient staff to cover the needs of all of their patients at all times.
Source: Outpatient Surgery, "$5.9M verdict for fatal bowel perforation," David Bernard, Nov. 29, 2012.