Mercy Clinic in Springfield Missouri and two of its doctors have been accused of failing to provide emergency treatment to prevent a flesh-eating bacterium from spreading. In this medical malpractice case, Mercy has been accused of discharging the patient, Adam Maier, when he had a flesh eating infection because he was uninsured. Maier was initially seen by the hospital’s emergency room on the morning of June 24, 2010. He was complaining of “perirectal abscess and cellulitis.” He was given a painkiller and oral and intravenous antibiotics, and then discharged an hour and a half later with instructions to rest, take warm sitz baths two times a day, and if his condition worsened, to return to the emergency room.
It was not until four days later that surgeons began to perform a series of operations. However, by this time the infection has ravaged his left buttocks and spread down his leg to his knee. Medical records show that in order to contain Maier’s infection and to repair the consequences of its spread, the four operations removed the dead and damaged tissue, performed a colostomy, and a skin graft was needed. The surgeries left Maier permanently disabled; unable to lift objects, sit or drive for long periods of time, do work in the yard, or household repairs.
Two expert witnesses for Maier claim that the hospital made serious errors. A legal duty exists for health providers to provide emergency medical care to stabilize the condition of people who need it. When Maier was first seen by the doctor, the doctor should have immediately ordered lab tests and either an X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound. This would have determined the extent and severity of the infection. He also should have admitted Maier to the hospital and performed surgery within 24 hours.
There is no evidence that proves that Maier’s initial surgery was postponed in June 2010 for financial reasons. However, a hospital document created on the date of his initial visit to the emergency room indicates that Maier was unemployed and had no primary insurance coverage. He was listed as a “bad debt.” It has been denied by the nonprofit health system that a patient’s insurance coverage or ability to pay impacts the care they are provided. However, like other health systems, Mercy has faced increasing amounts of bad debts.
Maier and his wife are asking for a jury trial and damages to compensate them for his continuing pain and mental anguish. Maier’s wife has asked for damages for loss of consortium and companionship. There is currently no cap on medical malpractice awards in Missouri, since the state’s Supreme Court struck down such limits as unconstitutional. However, a cap of $350,000 for noneconomic damages (damages not associated with lost wages or medical care) was upheld in wrongful death cases.
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