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Can I File a Medical Malpractice Claim for a Hospital-Acquired Infection?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

One any given day in the U.S., about 31 patients suffer a hospital-acquired infection (HAI) due to any number of reasons. In most cases, the patient has to have been a patient in the hospital for at least 48 hours before the infection is considered to be a hospital infection. Although it would seem that any malpractice suit brought by a malpractice attorney might be straightforward, that is not the case. Sometimes it is very difficult to find that the hospital was at fault. However, with the right approach and a complete investigation there may be grounds for patient compensation.

In any medical malpractice case, the patient must be able to prove that there was negligence on the part of the hospital and that this negligence was a failure to meet a standard level of professional care that would have been given in a normal circumstance. In a hospital there are many exposures that a patient has to bacteria and other infectious causes, and not all of it can be controlled by the hospital staff. Each case has to be thoroughly investigated and researched to determine the source of the infection.

Types of Infections Found in a Hospital Setting

There are four main areas of hospital treatment and exposure where infections can occur. A review of these categories provides a better understanding of what the process is, how it affects the health of the patient, and how an infection might result. This review might also reveal instances where human error could lead to a situation where sanitation or reasonable care becomes a question, and where negligence could be claimed.

Central Line-associated Bloodstream Infection (CLABSI)

Central Line-associated Bloodstream Infections account for thousands of patient deaths in any given year. The good news is that they can be prevented with proper patient care and by following strict procedures. However, if these procedures and levels of care expectations are not in place this opens the door for litigation.

A central line catheter is a tube that is placed directly in a vein in the groin, neck, or chest to be able to give medication or fluids directly to the patient through the bloodstream. This is similar to intravenous catheters (IV’s) that are inserted close to the surface of the skin for a short period. The difference is that the CLABSI accesses a vein close to the heart and is usually left in place for long periods. This is the case with patients in intensive care or receiving medication or transfusions. The risk of infection is very high in these cases because the opening where the tube has been inserted remains uncovered except for a bandage leaving a body opening where bacteria or a virus can enter.

An infection occurs when the bacteria or virus enters the bloodstream through the central line or the wound. The central line must first be inserted correctly, and this can be a reason for malpractice if the insertion was not done correctly or it was done by an inexperienced person without the proper training. In addition, the hospital staff must check the opening for redness or soreness each time the bandage is changed to be sure that there is strict adherence to all of the infection control measures in place. At the first sign of a fever the staff must consider treatment for an infection. The law offices of Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. have had a great deal of experience investigating these types of cases, and they know exactly where to look for possible negligence. Eileen Kroll is an experienced registered nurse as well as a trial attorney and will work diligently to pursue the justice you or a loved one deserve.

Catheter-associated Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Probably the most common type of infection found in a hospital setting is due to bacteria entering the urinary system once the catheter has been put in place. In fact, as reported by the National Healthcare Safety Network, 75 % of hospital related infections are due to urinary infections.

In these cases infections most often occur when the catheter is left in the urinary tract too long, and patient movement and normal activity provides a grounding area for bacteria. For this reason catheters should only be used when it is absolutely necessary, and they should be removed as quickly as possible. The case for negligence could be associated with the situation where a hospital staff member may have forgotten to follow procedure and remove the catheter at the appropriate time. It has been documented that between 15-25% of hospital patients receive urinary infections after their stay at the hospital.

Surgical Site Infections (SSI)

When a patient needs surgery, pains are taken by the hospital staff and the surgeons to prepare the area of the body where the surgery takes place. When there is an infection it usually happens at the site and can be limited to a surface infection of the skin. However, if the infection enters the bloodstream through the surgical site it can penetrate tissues under the skin, medical implants, and even organs. In this case the infection can be very serious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidelines and procedures to control infections in these cases. A qualified malpractice attorney at our law firm will be aware of these guidelines and can evaluate the reasonable implementation of these guidelines in a claim of negligence.

Ventilator-associated Pneumonia (VAP)

A ventilator is used in the hospital to provide oxygen to the patient during an operation or possibly an emergency. The ventilator apparatus is placed over the patient’s mouth or in the nose, and in some cases, it is inserted through the throat. In all cases, bacteria can enter through the air tubes and settle in the lungs. Once the lungs have been infected the patient could develop Pneumonia. A malpractice lawyer at our law firm will look for measures the hospital took to reduce the chance of an infection. For instance, was the patient taken off the ventilator as soon as he could breathe on his own, was the equipment cleaned properly from the last use or replaced when necessary, and were steps taken to attend to the patient while the tubes were attached? These are all practices and procedures that can be evaluated in regard to reasonable care.

What are Nosocomial Infections (HAI)?

A nosocomial infection is an infection that has been acquired in a particular location. In the case of one occurring in a hospital it is generally referred to as a hospital-acquired infection (HAI). For an infection to be labeled an HAI the infection must have been diagnosed when a patient had been admitted for something other than the infection, and after the patient had been in the hospital more than 48 hours.

In the case of patient discharge, the infection must be noted within 3 days of the date of discharge and up to 30 days after an operation. The most common types of infection due to hospital care are pneumonia, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, meningitis, and surgical site infections.

The symptoms of an HAI infection can include headache, discharge of a wound. vomiting and diarrhea, difficulty urinating, and shortness of breath and coughing. Many patients will have a visible indication of the infection, and any pain and irritation may be signs of a new infection. In the situation of a potential malpractice suit, all of the patient’s symptoms should be noted in a medical journal or with notes taken by a family member or doctor. A malpractice attorney at our law firm will need as much information as possible to follow the pattern of care while the patient was in the hospital.

Sepsis can be a Life-threatening Infection

Sepsis is an illness that is caused by an infection in the body. When there is an infection the person’s immune system begins to work to fight off the infection and heal the wound. When a patient has sepsis, the immune system begins to work overtime, and the chemicals of the immune system are released into the bloodstream causing a major inflammation to the entire body. This condition can cause septic shock and lead to a serious medical emergency. There are more than 1.5 million cases of sepsis each year, and each year this illness kills more than 250,000 people in America.

Life-threatening Infection

In order to identify and diagnose sepsis the doctor must be able to confirm that the patient has at least two of the following symptoms: a breathing rate of more than 20 breaths per minute, a fever of 101 degrees F (38 degrees C) or a temperature below 96.8 degrees F (36 degrees C), a heart rate of more than 90 beats per minute, and confirmed or probable infection. However, if there are any one of these symptoms present it is best to seek a medical opinion.

In the case of severe sepsis, there is organ failure. This can be recognized when there are additional symptoms where there is a distinct change in mental ability, weakness, and even unconsciousness. At this point the patient can exhibit extremely low blood pressure and lapse into septic shock.

One very dangerous type of sepsis is the illness known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus and is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics that are usually used to treat staph infection. This severe infection can cause disfigurement, severe injury, and even amputation if not treated properly.

Steps to Litigation in a Hospital Malpractice Suit

Determining whether there has been a case of negligence when a patient contacts an infection is very difficult. In many cases there is no way to establish that a hospital staff member or caretaker did anything inappropriate that contributed to or caused the infection. However, if there is the belief that measures should have been taken to prevent the infection, then there might be a case for negligence.

The first step in this process is to conduct an investigation of the policies, practices, and procedures currently operating within the hospital that directly affect the type of care and the circumstances surrounding that care. Your malpractice attorney may have to contact outside medical experts to assess the standard of care given and whether it was acceptable. If it is determined that the infection could have been prevented if other actions were taken, then there might be the possibility of filing a medical malpractice claim against the medical professional, the hospital, or even the manufacturer of any equipment that was used in the procedure.

In Michigan, there is a statute of limitations that dictates that the patient must file a lawsuit within two years of the event that caused the injury. Michigan also has very strict guidelines when filing to prevent baseless and frivolous lawsuits from making it to a trial. It is necessary to work with a malpractice attorney at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. to make sure all of the steps are taken, and all the time limits are adhered to. If there is any lapse of continuity in this process, the case could be dismissed.

Final Thoughts

If you are in the hospital or you have been treated in the hospital, and as a result of this stay you have contracted an infection, you can bring a medical malpractice suit against the hospital, the staff, and even the attending physician.

However, it is sometimes difficult to establish negligence when each professional was doing his or her job with reasonable care, and you still got sick. If there is a concern that the hospital may be liable in the case of your getting an infection, it is best to contact a malpractice attorney to investigate. At Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. we have a great deal of knowledge and experience investigating and preparing malpractice suits of this nature. Contact us at or call us at 866-MICH-LAW if you would like to have us evaluate your situation. The initial consultation is free, and we never charge a fee unless we win your case.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Tristan is a professional writer and had careers as a teacher of English, school administrator, and as a broker in real estate sales. He has gained a great deal of legal experience through his service as the president of a teacher's union, a member of the board for a real estate association, and as the chairman of the Government Affairs Committee for the real estate board of directors. Before beginning a full-time job as a freelance writer, he was the Executive Director of the Global Business Alliance for a local Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Government Affairs Committee for the Chamber.



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