Epiglottitis Misdiagnosis and Delayed Treatment: A Legal Perspective

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doctor checking sick african american girl's throat with tongue depressor in bed at home

Epiglottitis is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition characterized by the rapid inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis, which is a small cartilage lid that covers the windpipe (trachea) to prevent food from entering the airway during swallowing. This condition is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, but can also result from other factors like injury or inflammation.  Medical malpractice claims arise when epiglottitis is not diagnosed or treated in time.

How Epiglottitis Can Harm Someone if Not Treated in Time:

  1. Airway Obstruction: The primary danger of epiglottitis is that the swollen epiglottis can block the flow of air into the lungs, leading to acute respiratory distress. If not treated promptly, this can rapidly progress to complete airway obstruction, which is a medical emergency.
  2. Hypoxia: Airway obstruction can result in hypoxia, a condition where the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Hypoxia can lead to organ dysfunction, brain damage, and if prolonged, can be fatal.
  3. Sepsis: If epiglottitis is caused by a bacterial infection, there is a risk of the infection spreading, potentially leading to sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection that can result in tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
  4. Respiratory Failure: In severe cases, the inflammation can lead to respiratory failure, where the lungs are unable to provide enough oxygen to the body or remove enough carbon dioxide, necessitating emergency medical intervention such as intubation or mechanical ventilation.

Incidence of Epiglottitis

Close-up of a female doctor checking thyroid of a young woman patient in clinicThe incidence of epiglottitis has significantly decreased in the post-Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine era. However, it still occurs and presents a risk, particularly in both unvaccinated children and adults. The rarity of epiglottitis can contribute to its misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, as its initial symptoms might mimic other less serious conditions like croup or tonsillitis.

Treatment of Epiglottitis

Prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical in managing epiglottitis. The treatment primarily focuses on securing the airway and addressing the underlying infection. Key components include:

  • Securing the Airway: This is the most immediate concern. Medical professionals may need to perform intubation (inserting a tube into the trachea) to keep the airway open.
  • Antibiotics: If the cause is bacterial, intravenous antibiotics are administered to treat the infection.
  • Corticosteroids: These may be used to reduce inflammation.
  • Supportive Care: This includes oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, and other measures to support breathing and reduce the risk of complications.

Epiglottitis requires emergency medical care, and delays in treatment can lead to rapid deterioration and severe outcomes. Early medical intervention significantly improves the prognosis and reduces the risk of serious complications.

Legal Rights in Misdiagnosis or Delayed Treatment

Patients who suffer harm due to the misdiagnosis or delayed treatment of epiglottitis may have a valid medical malpractice claim. To establish malpractice, it must be proven that:

  1. There was a doctor-patient relationship, establishing a duty of care.
  2. There was a breach in the standard of care expected from a medical professional.
  3. This breach directly caused injury or harm (e.g., respiratory distress, prolonged hospitalization).
  4. The patient incurred damages as a result of this injury or harm.

Specific Malpractice Settlements and Verdicts for Epiglottitis

Delayed or misdiagnosed epiglottitis has led to several significant settlements and jury verdicts.

  1. District of Columbia, $24,297,770 Verdict: A one-year-old infant presented at D.C. General Hospital with severe respiratory distress. Paramedics suspected airway obstruction. Epiglottitis and croup were initially considered, but epiglottitis was soon ruled out. No further tests were conducted to determine the cause of her distress. Her condition worsened, leading to cardiac and respiratory failure and resulting in an 8 to 10-minute period without oxygen to the brain. This led to a permanent diagnosis of cerebral palsy and mental retardation, necessitating lifelong full-time care.Legal Action: A medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against the hospital, claiming a failure to meet the standard of care. The defense argued the arrest was unexpected and sudden. However, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, awarding $24,297,770.
  2. Michigan, $2,000,000 Settlement: A man visited an Illinois hospital showing symptoms of epiglottitis. He waited in the ER for two hours without receiving treatment, subsequently going into respiratory and cardiac failure and was declared brain dead.Legal Action: A wrongful death suit was filed, resulting in a pre-trial settlement of $2,000,000.
  3. Pennsylvania, $1,070,000 Settlement: A 38-year-old man sought treatment at a clinic for severe sore throat and difficulty swallowing, diagnosed with acute pharyngitis and sent home with a recommendation for over-the-counter medication. His condition deteriorated, leading to respiratory arrest and death within 24 hours. An autopsy confirmed epiglottitis as the cause of death.Legal Action: A medical malpractice suit was filed against the clinic and hospital, alleging failure to provide qualified physicians and improper supervision of the physician’s assistant. The parties settled for $1,070,000.

How Lupetin & Unatin Can Assist

At Lupetin & Unatin, our experience in medical malpractice law equips us to offer indispensable support to victims of epiglottitis misdiagnosis or delayed treatment. Here’s how we ensure our clients get the justice they deserve:

  • Comprehensive Case Evaluation: We meticulously assess the details of each case to determine the viability of a malpractice claim. Understanding the nuances of each situation is crucial in building a strong case.
  • Expert Collaboration: We work closely with medical experts to establish how the standard of care was breached and the impact of this breach. This collaboration is vital in proving negligence and its consequences.
  • Legal Representation: From the moment we file a lawsuit to navigating the complex legal procedures, we are committed to providing dedicated legal representation. Defending the rights of our clients is our utmost priority, and we ensure their voices are heard in the legal system.
  • Negotiation and Litigation: With skilled negotiation tactics, we aim for fair settlements. However, we are always prepared to take a case to trial if necessary to seek the compensation our clients deserve. Our goal is to ensure that justice is served.
  • Contingency Fee Basis: Understanding the financial burden that legal proceedings can impose, our services are typically offered on a contingency fee basis. This means our clients only pay if compensation is recovered, ensuring that our interests are aligned.

The misdiagnosis or delayed treatment of epiglottitis can lead to dire consequences. If you or a loved one is injured by delayed treatment of epiglottitis, it is critical you protect your legal rights to seek financial compensation.  Understanding these rights is crucial, and as specialized medical malpractice lawyers, we play an instrumental role in this process. At Lupetin & Unatin we are dedicated to guiding patients through the legal labyrinth, ensuring they receive the justice and compensation they rightfully deserve. Our expertise brings not only peace of mind to affected families but also contributes significantly to upholding medical standards and patient safety.

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