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How Do You Prove a Tennessee Hospital Committed Malpractice?


If you suffer a serious injury in an accident, your life may depend on receiving immediate medical care. But what happens when the doctors are negligent and only make the situation worse? When does a medical provider’s judgment error cross the line into medical malpractice?

Inaccurate Hospital Records Thwart Widow’s Lawsuit

In 2008, a Tennessee man fell of a roof. He sustained a number of broken bones, as well as organ damage and internal bleeding. He ultimately required intensive care at a Nashville hospital.

Sadly, the man passed away about six months after his initial accident. His widow subsequently filed a medical malpractice claim against the hospital. She alleged doctors were negligent in performing a tracheostomy on her husband shortly after his initial admission. A tracheostomy is a surgical procedure used to create an air passage to help a patient breathe.

In this case, the doctors attempted to perform a tracheostomy at the decedent’s bedside. When this proved problematic, the doctors moved him into an operating room and did the procedure a second time. For some reason, the hospital’s official records inaccurately stated the initial, beside attempt was successful and uncomplicated.

The crux of the widow’s lawsuit was that during the first tracheostomy attempt, the doctors negligently fractured her husband’s cricoid cartilage, a critical part of the voice box. This effectively narrowed his airway and ultimately led to the complications that caused his death. The hospital rejected this claim, and said the decedent’s extended time on a ventilator combined with the successful tracheostomy led to the narrowing of his airway, which was a “recognized risk of both procedures” and not the result of any negligence on the part of the doctors.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the hospital. The widow appealed. Among other grounds, she argued the trial judge should have instructed the jury to “presume” that had the hospital provided accurate records regarding the first, aborted tracheostomy, this would have been “adverse” to the hospital’s case. Basically, the widow wanted what is known in Tennessee law as a “missing evidence” instruction.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals rejected that argument, along with the rest of the widow’s appeal. “An essential prerequisite to the use of the missing evidence instruction is that the missing document actually existed and was not produced,” the court said. Since the hospital here never had an accurate record of what happened, it could not be punished for failing to produce it.

Do You Need Help From a Tennessee Medical Malpractice Attorney?

If you have lost a loved one due to medical malpractice, it is cold comfort to think the hospital might escape responsibility because it failed to keep accurate records. But cases like the one above illustrate the complexity and difficulty of the law in this area. This is why you need to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer whenever you are dealing with health care providers or insurance companies. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law.



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