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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
Attorney • (800) 752-0042

Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice-A Lethal Mix

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Note: see also medical malpractice and automobile accident categories. 

It is whispered that the nurses that really “care” about their patients will only go so far to protect a negligent doctor or hospital from “whistleblowing” –when they know malpractice has occurred and ultimately contributed to a wrongful death. Will a nurse “whistleblow” even when they worry that they could be fired or disciplined for notifying someone of the truth?

Here’s a true story that you won’t believe: a 73 year old Reverend was in the operating room for back surgery in Hawaii. His surgeon, Dr. Ricketson, realized once he had begun the surgery that the two titanium rods he needed for the procedure were nowhere to be found. He would need to wait two hours to get the rods from the medical supply company, but he noticed that the shaft of the screwdriver he was using was “about” the right size. He testified the patient would lose a lot of blood if he hadn’t acted quickly.

Dr. Ricketson decided to use the screwdriver, and cut it to size with a surgical saw, and carried on with the procedure, inserting surgical screws through the makeshift screwdriver shaft.

Unfortunately, the steel shaft snapped in the reverend’s back several days after the surgery, causing several more surgeries and he died two years later from surgical complications. His family hired a injury lawyer to look into the medical care.

Based on the testimony of a whistleblower nurse, several nurses tried to first talk the doctor out of using the screwdriver shaft, and then later one nurse argued that the family needed to be TOLD of the substitution of the screwdriver part, but the nurse said she was told to NOT tell the family anything.

The nurse was morally outraged. She had the courage to bring the truth out.

Then all the parties blamed each other. The medical supply co. said it had delivered the rods, and the hospital blamed the supply co. Also, the hospital claimed it was not responsible for the unusual decision of the doctor, but the family’s lawyers proved that the hospital had allowed the doctor in question to stay on the hospital staff despite several disciplinary actions against him, including his known prior addiction to narcotics.

Evidence was introduced at the jury trial also that stainless steel has not been approved for implantation, though titanium has.

In March, 2006, the Hawaii jury arrived at a 2.2 million dollar verdict for compensatory damages, and 3.4 million dollar verdict in punitive damages. The case name was Iturralde v. Ricketson.

In many states, insurer’s and doctor’s are seeking arbitrary caps on damages in medical negligence cases, or outright immunity against various types of claims. Injury attorneys argue that “caps” on damages will only protect insurance companies, and will certainly not help consumers and patients. As for helping doctors, the best way to keep the medical system safe and functioning well, is to allow suits against terrible doctors like this one who “freelanced” on a trusting victimized Reverend. And lets not forget to thank a nurse who had courage and a conscience.