Never events are significant errors that occur in the medical profession during the treatment of a patient. They are far more than simple mistakes and demonstrate a high degree of negligence or recklessness. Put another way, they are events that never should have happened.
Sadly, the principal victims of medical negligence and never events, the patients and their families, are not only left with questions but also impactful injuries and losses that sometimes follow them for the rest of their lives. But why do never events occur, and what can victims do about it? Fortunately, answers exist to both of these and other pertinent questions, and a medical malpractice lawyer can help victims seek justice and compensation for their injuries and losses.
Never Events and American Medicine
The United States has one of the most advanced systems of medicine on the planet, as well as many of the top medical institutions of higher learning and research. So you would expect healthcare in the U.S. to be top-notch, and it often is.
However, shocking data shows that medical professionals throughout the country regularly commit thousands of never events annually. Surgeons, nurses, lab techs, and other industry professionals are all responsible, especially surgeons. Surgical never events top most hospitals’ lists as being the most common.
But they are not limited to direct treatment events, such as surgery. Never events encompass mistakes relating to patient protection and environmental mistakes.
For example, discharging a patient who cannot make decisions on their own may be considered to be a never event. Likewise, electrocution of a patient could also be a never event.
That said, the lion’s share of never events have to do with some aspect of the direct treatment of a patient, be they surgical or other procedural events.
Breaking Down Never Events
Never events are shocking because society expects more from trained medical professionals. Fortunately, many never events are correctable; however, many victims and their families are still permanently injured or without the presence of a loved one.
Regardless of their results, never events include seven categories.
Surgical and Procedural
Never events in this context occur in:
- Wrong-site surgery
- Wrong-patient surgery
- Wrong type of surgery
- Foreign object retention after surgery or other procedure
Regarding wrong-site surgery, a surgeon may be tasked to amputate a patient’s left foot, for example, but may erroneously take the right one instead.
Wrong-patient surgery, on the other hand, involves surgery on the wrong patient, whereas the wrong type of surgery encompasses surgical procedures mistakenly performed when others should have been.
Foreign object retention occurs when a foreign object remains within a patient after a procedure. It most frequently happens during surgery but may also occur during other procedures. For example, vaginal swabs used during OB/GYN procedures can remain within women after their procedures, leading to dangerous conditions.
Product and Device
Healthcare providers must use devices and products appropriately and safely.
However, never events related to these products and devices continue to occur, including:
- The use of contaminated medicines, tools, or products
- The failure to use a product or device as intended
- The occurrence of an intravascular air embolism
In the past, healthcare providers unknowingly exposed patients to contamination of deadly and destructive bacteria and sickness due to horrific medical practices and protocols. However, with the advancements made, we no longer live in a world where these same contaminations can reasonably exist.
With basic care and adherence to fundamental standards, there would be no patient contamination from tools, devices, or medicine.
Using devices or tools in a manner other than intended also sometimes occurs, especially when inexperience or ego is involved.
In the former, an unskilled medical professional might erroneously choose the incorrect implement and wreak havoc. In the latter, a skilled professional may believe they have what it takes to use the wrong tool when the right one is not available.
Patients deserve to be protected by their care providers until they are no longer under their direct care. Sadly, various errors in this category exist that unreasonably put patients at significant risk of harm and death.
Common patient protection never events include:
- Unsafe discharge of a patient
- Patient elopement due to faulty monitoring
- Patient suicide or attempted suicide
Lack of adequate monitoring typically underlies the never events in this area.
Never events in the management of a patient’s case can include any number of errors that result in an extreme failure to provide a patient with comprehensive healthcare services for their case.
These never events include:
- Medication errors leading to injury or death
- Unsafe administration of blood products
- The appearance of stage 3 or stage 4 ulcers after being admitted into care
- Irretrievable loss of a biological sample that leads to death or injury
Also included under case management never events are failures to follow up or communicate test or pathology results, maternal death in a low-risk pregnancy, and erroneous artificial insemination results.
Environmental never events encompass mistakes that occur in the surroundings of the patient, often with equipment and the like, including:
- Electric shock injury of a patient while in the hospital or clinic
- Gas errors, such as the use of the wrong gas for a patient
- Burns while under the care of an institution or healthcare professional
Injuries caused by the negligent use of restraints and the like are also never events in this category.
The main type of injury or death that can occur from a never event in this realm comes from a failure to keep metallic items out of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) area.
MRIs are generally safe. However, unsecured, everyday metallic objects, such as keys and fingernail clippers, can be deadly in an MRI area. For this reason, healthcare professionals who operate these machines must take the proper precautions to prevent catastrophic and deadly mishaps.
Healthcare professionals are not law enforcement. Yet, they still have the duty to prevent their patients from becoming victims of various crimes. For example, the sexual assault of a patient while in a hospital is a never event that clearly demonstrates the institution’s negligence or recklessness toward the patient’s safety.
Other never events that are criminal include patient abduction and physical assault, to name only a couple.
Victims of Never Events May Seek Justice
No victim of a never event or any other medical negligence needs to suffer through their injuries without recompense. Florida law makes it clear that victims can hold medical professionals liable for injurious acts that fall below a required standard of care.
However, no victim should ever try to seek justice without the representation of an experienced medical negligence attorney. The stakes are too high, and never-event victims typically need access to the highest compensation figures available to address their injuries and losses.
How a Medical Negligence Attorney Can Help
In the medical world, the compensation process is typically characterized by procedural complexities, fierce disputes, and negotiations. On the one side, medical professionals work hard to avoid being labeled negligent, and their insurance companies do what they can to shift some or all of the blame to the victim.
Insurance companies also like to dispute the seriousness of victims’ physical, psychological, and emotional losses. Successfully doing so allows them to pay far less than they should.
However, those victims with a seasoned medical negligence attorney representing them get the peace of mind that a professional is fighting to get them the funds they need, and they are represented by someone who can effectively counter insurance company tactics and access large sums of compensation.
The main type of damages your medical malpractice attorney will seek is compensatory damages. Their purpose is to compensate you for the myriad of losses you have likely suffered due to a never event.
Generally speaking, there are two types of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic.
As the name clearly states, economic damages directly affect your financial situation, including:
- Medical expenses for treatment, rehab, and future medical care
- Lost wages due to the inability to work, past, present, and future
- Costs related to the hiring of domestic care professionals
When you meet with a medical negligence lawyer, one of the first things they will seek to do is get a rough idea of what your damages are, typically beginning with your economic losses.
Once they move onto your non-economic damages, they will look for recoverable damages based on losses that do not have a clear price tag or dollar value, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
- Disfigurement or scarring
- Physical impairment
- Loss of convenience
As you can see, these losses are not necessarily directly tied to financial losses, but they impact victims’ lives immensely. For this reason, the legislature saw fit to make them recoverable.
These damages are more open to interpretation than economic damages, which are easily verifiable through account and work records, to name a few sources. Therefore, you can expect any insurance company handling a never event claim to try to skimp on the payment of non-economic damages.
Calculating Non-Economic Damages
But how much money are pain and suffering worth, for example? The answer largely depends on the extent of the injury. For instance, it is usually the case that the more devastating the injury, the more pain and suffering a victim is likely to experience. But this is not always the case.
Much of the compensation you receive for your injuries, both economic and non-economic, depends heavily on the savvy and skill of the medical malpractice attorney you choose to represent you.
In other words, an experienced medical malpractice attorney will likely get you far more compensation than someone with little experience in medical malpractice and negligence cases.
Punitive damages only arise in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. They are awarded on top of compensatory damages, and their primary purpose is to punish the offending party rather than compensate the victim.
In never event cases, the negligence involved is indeed gross. However, punitive damages are never automatic or guaranteed but something that a skilled medical malpractice attorney will seek when appropriate.
Although Florida once had a cap on compensatory medical malpractice damages, it no longer exists. Hence, juries are free to award significant damages to plaintiffs in these cases as long as there is evidence to back up a loss.
There are, however, caps on punitive damages in medical malpractice cases. Victims can receive awards for punitive damages that are up to triple the compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is higher.
Proving Medical Negligence
Before receiving any compensation, your medical negligence attorney must demonstrate that negligence was indeed involved. This task is not always so difficult when it comes to never event cases, given the shocking nature of these types of errors.
What sometimes proves to be challenging is demonstrating precisely who is at fault. For instance, if the wrong patient is wheeled into surgery, who is at fault if the surgeon performs the operation?
Obviously, it depends on the circumstances. But as you can see, there is a little untangling to be done, which is what an adept medical malpractice attorney knows how to do.
A skilled medical malpractice attorney must also know how to demonstrate that the negligence in question actually led to the losses a victim has suffered. Just because a never event happens does not mean that mistake led to certain injuries and losses. A medical negligence attorney must demonstrate this causal link.
Getting Justice for Your Never Event Losses
A never event is not supposed to happen. Hence, the name “never event.” It is an occurrence so egregious that there can be no reasonable explanation or argument that excuses it.
If you or a loved one has tragically experienced one, contact an attorney today for help getting compensation. You deserve justice for your losses.