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Naval hospital target of anesthesia negligence claim

Health care professionals whose preventable mistakes harm patients can be held accountable through North Carolina civil claims. Hospital negligence occurs at government as well as private institutions. However, sovereign immunity laws generally protect the federal government from medical malpractice claims.

Exceptions to that hands-off legal protection are included in the Federal Tort Claims Act. Legal actions against the government are permitted when the carelessness of federal employees cause serious patient injuries and wrongful deaths.

The wife of a retired Navy veteran filed a lawsuit last month claiming that doctors at a military hospital were responsible for incapacitating her husband. The former Navy Chief Engineman suffered a brain injury during routine diagnostic tests in July 2014, which the lawsuit alleges was caused by insufficient oxygen.

The patient's injury occurred during a colonoscopy procedure which left him in a permanent vegetative state. The 47-year-old man is now a nursing home, where some expenses for his care are being covered by Medicaid. The lawsuit requests compensation for ongoing medical expenses.

Court papers stated doctors at the Navy hospital failed to consider the patient's pre-existing sleep apnea, a condition diagnosed by physicians at the same hospital in 2008, before placing the patient under anesthesia. The questionnaire filled out by the patient prior to the procedure did not mention the condition. However, the lawsuit asserts colonoscopy doctors acted irresponsibly because they did not take the time to read the patient's record.

The legal action also alleges that the hospital staff was slow to respond when the patient went into cardiac arrest. The veteran was deprived of oxygen for 22 minutes as doctors performed emergency procedures. The lawsuit claims that brain damage might have been avoided if doctors had acted more quickly. The procedures can be completed in as little as three minutes.

Families should consider taking prompt legal action when medical malpractice injury claims involve government institutions.

Source: Military Times, "Lawsuit: Procedure left retired sailor in coma at naval hospital," Patricia Kime, July 26, 2015

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