One of the most devastating cases a medical malpractice attorney can accept is one in which a medical error caused a patient to slip into a coma or a permanent or persistent vegetative state. Various negligent actions—such as improper intubation, an anesthesia mistake, and failure to monitor a patient’s vital signs during surgery—could cause a coma and force a family to make sudden and extremely difficult decisions on behalf of their loved one.
For more than 30 years, Cleveland medical malpractice attorney Chris Mellino has devoted his practice to helping patients obtain expert care, specialized rehabilitation, and lifelong disease management, all of which can be extremely expensive. We obtained a $12.5 million settlement for a family of a 51-year-old man whose heart surgery was negligently performed leaving him in a persistent vegetative state.
FIVE MEDICAL EVENTS THAT CAN CAUSE PERSISTENT VEGETATIVE STATE
Brain damage can occur for a number of reasons, and a coma or persistent vegetative state may be the outcome for some medical patients who suffer an injury during surgery.
The main causes of brain injury during surgery are:
- Vascular pressure that causes intracranial hemorrhaging (bleeding or clots) or stroke. A medical patient can suffer a stroke when blood pressure is not monitored and managed during surgery. A stroke can also occur when a patient is not properly treated for a blood clot in the brain.
- Dangerously low blood pressure. Another case in which mismanagement of a patient under anesthesia may result in a dangerous drop in blood pressure. This may also occur due to severe blood loss from a surgical procedure.
- Hypoxic brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation. As MedlinePlus states, “The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function.” Cardiac arrest, stroke, and an anesthesia mistake can all cause hypoxia.
- Lack of oxygen supply to the brain for an extended period, such as during a cardio-respiratory arrest. A patient may be able to file a medical malpractice claim if his or her brain did not receive enough oxygen because a healthcare provider failed to diagnose or respond promptly to a cardiac episode, such as a heart attack.
- Epileptic seizures. A patient with a history of epilepsy is often at higher risk for a seizure during surgery and failure to administer treatment in a timely manner can result in a coma. If a patient suffers a seizure during surgery, he or she must be carefully monitored during the postictal stage—the altered state of consciousness a person enters after a seizure and before returning to a normal state of consciousness—of recovery. Any abnormalities in the patient’s vision, behavior, sodium levels, magnesium, or calcium have to be addressed immediately to avoid risk of a vegetative state coma.
- Infections. Failure to address any signs of central nervous system infection, such as meningitis or encephalitis, before surgery may progress not only to severe infection but may also result in a comatose or vegetative state.
As indicated above, anesthesia errors aren’t the only cause of brain injuries and vegetative state comas; these conditions can result from a missed diagnosis or failure to respond/treat a cardiac episode. Any form of medical negligence that causes a patient to fall into a coma or vegetative state may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim—and Cleveland medical malpractice attorney Christopher Mellino can help you pursue such a claim.
WHEN A LOVED ONE IS IN A PERSISTENT VEGETATIVE STATE COMA DUE TO MALPRACTICE
There are three stages of health a medical patient can be in when he or she has suffered global brain damage from medical malpractice: coma, persistent vegetative state, and permanent vegetative state. The state of responsiveness may be a deciding factor in whether a family will need a brain injury lawyer or a wrongful death attorney.
An individual may fall into a coma as the result of a non-traumatic brain injury. In cases of medical malpractice, this would be instances where the brain was deprived of oxygen or the patient’s blood pressure was not properly regulated. A coma is caused by damage to the reticular activating system (RAS)—the part of the brain that controls sleep and wakefulness and making transitions between the two states. When in a coma, the patient will experience a loss of consciousness and inability to respond to stimuli.
A coma can last for weeks and will result either in awakening and recovery, death, or progression into a persistent vegetative state. When a patient does recover from a coma, they will typically need long-term care to restore muscle function due to weeks of immobility. Cognitive and speech therapy may be necessary to regain diminished brain function, and there may be permanent global brain damage due to the trauma.
A persistent vegetative state is when the patient is no longer considered to be in a coma but is still unresponsive. While the individual may appear to be awake, he or she can no longer think, reason, communicate, and perform other basic cognitive functions. At this point, the higher levels of the brain—the precuneus and adjacent posterior cingulate cortex—are no longer functional. This leaves the patient unable to move, communicate or care for themselves, relying on caregivers for all of their daily needs such as feeding and going to the bathroom.
Patients in a persistent vegetative state may appear to respond to stimuli and sometimes exhibit reactions such as smiling, coughing, or slight movements of the legs and arms. These reactions can often be mistaken as recovery, but in a true case of persistent vegetative state, they may be automatic behaviors that the thinking part of the brain did not process.
When the persistent vegetative state continues for several months, the patient’s diagnosis may be reclassified as being in a permanent vegetative state. This means the individual has been in a persistent vegetative state for more than six months as the result of non-traumatic brain damage such as oxygen deprivation during surgery or 12 months as the result of a traumatic brain injury from a car accident.
Time is an important factor in determining the type of case you have and the current and future considerations if you pursue a medical malpractice case.
HOW TO FILE A PERSISTENT VEGETATIVE STATE CLAIM
Diagnosing a comatose state and determining the long-term prognosis of the patient is a critical step in pursuing a medical malpractice claim. A Cleveland brain injury lawyer can help the family assess what medical evidence is needed to prove the cause and effect of the damage and determine their next steps when filing a medical malpractice claim.
When medical negligence is confirmed, our team will get to the real purpose of the lawsuit—seeking justice for the patient. Depending on the state of the patient and the prognosis for recovery, a family may seek a claim for compensation for long-term damages and suffering or a wrongful death claim.
When it is determined that a loved one has no chance of recovery from the permanent vegetative state, a wrongful death attorney in our office can help. In this case, hospice may be the next step, which will inflict additional financial and emotional distress upon a family.
These damages, both monetary and emotional, are the main reason families file medical malpractice or wrongful death claims. The second purpose is to assess punitive damages and actions against the negligent medical professional who caused the coma or vegetative state. A typical medical malpractice settlement compensates the victim for financial losses, emotional trauma and assesses the potential for punitive damages against the liable parties.
When you believe medical negligence caused your loved one to fall into a comatose or vegetative state, your first step should be to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. From there, you can work with expert witnesses who can provide testimony for the case.
CONTACT OUR FIRM TODAY
The brain injury lawyers at Mellino Law Firm can serve as an advocate for patients who suffer global brain damage during surgery such as an anoxic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen (brain cells begin to die after only four seconds of oxygen deprivation).
Families who suspect that a doctor, hospital, or other medical professional caused their loved one’s brain injury and resulting persistent vegetative state are urged to seek legal advice as soon as possible since the state limits the time a family has to file a claim.