Missouri Clinic Sued for Failing to Treat Flesh-Eating Infection

June 5, 2013

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report of a recent lawsuit against Mercy Clinic in Springfield, Missouri. Two surgeons are being sued for failing to provide treatment to prevent the spread of necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacterium.

er-1_l.jpg The plaintiff, a 66-year-old businessman, alleges that the surgeons at Mercy Clinic began operating on him at least four days after he was discharged from the clinic's ER. By the time the series of operations were initiated, the infection had already eaten away at his backside and leg all the way down to his knee.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious bacterial infection that destroys the body's soft tissue and spreads incredibly rapidly. This condition requires accurate diagnoses and immediate treatment with antibiotics, and prompt surgical intervention is often critical in stopping the infection.

The plaintiff's medical records show that he required four operations, with 22 specific procedures, in 2010 to contain the infection and repair the damage it had done to his body. The surgeries, which included skin grafts, a colostomy, and removal of dead tissue, totaled nearly $400,000.

He was admitted to Mercy's ER at around 8 a.m. on June 20, 2010 for complications of severe blistering and cellulitis, a skin infection caused by bacteria. He indicated pain to be a "ten" on a scale of one to ten, but was given merely a painkiller along with antibiotics and discharged around 9:30 a.m. One doctor saw him, but no surgeons ever evaluated him in the ER. Four days later, he returned to Mercy for an appointment with a surgeon who then determined multiple operations were necessary.

The plaintiff claims that his surgeries were postponed because he was uninsured. In fact, his status in hospital records was listed as "bad debt." In the United States, health providers have the legal responsibility to provide emergency medical care to stabilize the conditions of those in need, regardless of their economic standing.

Similar to other health care centers in the U.S., Mercy is facing growing amounts of bad debt, particularly in recent years. The clinic, formerly known as St. John's Regional Health Center, listed nearly $42 million in bad patient debts in 2011 - meaning debts that cannot be collected. Despite this, the nonprofit center denies that patient insurance coverage ever affects the care it provides to them.

In his deposition, the doctor who ultimately operated on the patient agreed that he should have been treated earlier than he was, however, he blamed the delay on the patient. He said that when the patient started seeing changes in his infection after the June 20 ER visit he should have sought treatment.

An expert witness for the plaintiff, however, testified that the doctor who saw him in the first ER visit made several outright errors by failing to order lab tests and scans immediately that could have determined the extent and severity of his infection. The initial doctor should have also required the patient to be admitted to the hospital, and should have performed surgery within 24 hours. The expert stated that he would not have discharged the patient under any circumstances.

After the four surgeries and 22 separate specific procedures, the plaintiff recovered in Mercy's burn unit. His backside and left leg, however, are significantly cut into, leaving him permanently disabled. He is now unable to lift objects, sit or drive for long periods of time, or do yard or housework. His wife says the ordeal caused her to lose faith in the medical profession.

Failures to diagnose or wrong diagnoses are the leading cause of medical malpractice deaths in the United States. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in an act of medical negligence, you may be entitled to significant compensation. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have decades of experience advocating on behalf of malpractice victims, and ensure you will receive the best representation and largest settlement possible.