TorteDeForm

Kia Franklin

Waiting Room Death Case Settles

A while back we covered the story of Esmin Green, a Brooklyn woman who died on the floor of the waiting room at Kings County Hospital Center (here's my post, here's Justinian's post). Her estate's civil case against the hospital has been settled and the family is to receive $2 million from the hospital (in NYT ).

The criminal case is still pending. From the family's lawyer:

“What remains most important to this family is the criminal culpability for those responsible for what happened and those who attempted to cover it up, which continues, after all this time, to remain under investigation by the New York City Department of Investigation,” Mr. Rubenstein said in a statement. “In no way does this settlement affect that investigation, and the family remains adamant in its demands that anyone who committed a criminal act with regard to the death of Esmin Green or the attempt to cover it up be prosecuted criminally to the full extent of the law.”

The comment section of the NYT blog got me to thinking. Most reasonable people truly get the importance of being able to sue when hospitals, entrusted with human lives, commit egregiously dangerous and negligent acts. They understand that Esmin Green's is not a frivolous case (most of them do, anyway. One guy called Green's case frivolous and got chewed out by just about everyone else on the blog).

But something sometimes gets lost in translation when we start talking about tort "reforms" that would prevent families from holding wrongdoers accountable for these types of acts in the future. Proponents of things like health courts and caps on non economic damages say that such so-called "reforms" would reduce costs, but all it would do is reduce accountability.

On the other hand, we could seriously save costs if cases like Ms. Green's were allowed to move forward, thus creating incentives for hospitals to promote safer, more efficient patient care. This would also draw attention to the need to provide hospitals and doctors with adequate resources to do this successfully. As observed by one of the NYT commenters:

Unfortunately as a medical student, I see similar cases all the time in the hospital. Its not because of apathy or maliciousness, but rather because of too few resources and too many patients. I’ve vowed to do my best by my patients and to always attend to their needs promptly, but I know its probably a losing battle. — Shamik

Case-in-point, Ms. Green's death brought much-needed attention to the horrible treatment low income psychiatric patients receive, which (directly or indirectly) spurred the hospital system to action. As stated in the NYT article:

The hospital system said it had undertaken numerous reforms, including construction of a new Behavioral Health Center Pavilion; the addition of more than 200 doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and other staff members; a reduction in crowding in the psychiatric emergency room; and reduced reliance on hospital police to manage patients in crisis

Especially when you're talking about hospitals that serve low income populations, it only makes sense that weighty incentives need to be in place to ensure proper care. What we DON'T need is to start making it easier for hospitals to neglect patients by reducing the likelihood that it will cost hospitals much money to pay for their bad practices. What we DO need is to continue expressing our outrage at dangerous inadequacies in the way care is provided, followed by demands that more resources be directed towards improving patient safety.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:37 AM, May 28, 2009 in Health Care | Insurance Industry | Medical Malpractice | Medical Malpratice | New York State | Tort "Reform" & Class | Tort Reform Movement's Concept of "Over-victimization"
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Comments

For what its worth. Interesting facts about this case. She died of a pulmonary embolus which the post mortem exam showed that no treatment would have saved her life. The monetary award went to an estranged daughter who lives in Jamica who had not seen the decedent for 8 years. Of the 2 Million dollar settlement, the attorneys got $800,000.

Posted by: throckmorton | May 30, 2009 1:04 PM

The patient was there for 24 hours before she collapsed. Who is to say that the pulmonary embolism would not have been prevented by timely care? As a nurse (RN, BS, MS, PhD, and a Legal Nurse Consultant) I know that sitting on an airplane for only a couple of hours can cause deep vein thromboses (DVTs) and pulmonary embolism even in people with no known risk factors. Frankly, I think the hospital got off light. As to the amount of money received by the atty firm, that is a standard percentage across the country. The attorneys worked on contingency - no reimbursement for their expenses or time - and took the standard percentage of the settlement. Do you really think they didn't earn every cent of that?

Posted by: elizabeth | May 30, 2009 6:55 PM

Elizabeth:

By your argument, she could have had her PE if she sat on a park bench, her chair at home or just laid in bed. Therefore, do you feel that anyone who sits should have prompt medical attention and then be anticoagulated? If she had prompt psychiatric care, as she was in a psychiatric ER would this have prevented the PE? With your Ph.D, do you feel that all psiactric patients should be given lovenox or other thrombus preventing agents? Better yet, lets mandate every ER and Hospital to anticoagulate all patients who enter the ER as well as all potential patients in a specified geographic agency. Is this a horrible case. Absolutely,but this should be a criminal case not a tort case. What was the result of the case. A hospital system that is already stretched to the breaking point without the resources it needs is now strapped further. How about criminally charging the people who were responsible? Oh, there is no miney in that, especially for nonclinical nurse legal consultants.

Posted by: throckmorton | May 30, 2009 7:13 PM

I advocate shutting down the emergency room after any law suit.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 30, 2009 7:15 PM

I advocate making a list of people who are enemies of our economy. They should be boycotted by all service and product providers. The list should include the entirety of the plaintiff side, including advocates, experts, plaintiffs, plaintiff families, lawyers, and biased judges.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 30, 2009 7:19 PM

I'm writing a dissertation on this case and just came across a piece of information that is quite interesting. Apparently, some neuroleptic drugs cause fatal blood clots. Kings County Hospital employees were found to have given out medication to patients just to keep them quiet. It's hard to say if Ms. Green was given any medication, I haven't gotten that far in my research, but if she was, that could have, in fact, killed her.

Posted by: Allie | August 28, 2009 1:14 PM