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Skip to main content a broken finger prove fatal for a college sophomore? Sadly, yes, especially when the usually minor injury gets mistreated and an underlying chronic health condition remains unaddressed by doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Such errors, misdiagnoses and possible medical negligence appear to have led to the death of a Chowan University student who sought treatment for car accident injuries at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia (VA). The family of the deceased young woman succeeded in receiving a wrongful death settlement of $1 million from the U.S. government, but that money is sure to stand as a poor substitute for a lifetime spent with their daughter and sister.

According to a Jan. 24, 2015, Virginian-Pilot article, the chain of events that concluded with the 19-year-old’s death began with  a car crash during September 2010. The young woman apparently suffered a broken finger, which Portsmouth Naval personnel x-rayed and splinted. Because the college student also suffered from the autoimmune disorder lupus, she was at increased risk for complications such as wound infections, specifically excessive swelling and pain. When that happens, the immune system begins attacking healthy tissue.

When the injured woman returned to the hospital several times complaining of swelling in her mouth and parts of her body other than her injured hand, she was treated as if she had developed a run-of-the-mill lung or throat infection. The medications she got prescribed while being sent home did not help, and she died before the end of October 2010.

Her parents later filed suit against the federal government, which operates the naval hospital in Portsmouth. Because the victim was a military dependent rather than an active-duty member of the Navy or Marines, medical malpractice claims on her behalf were not barred under the Feres Doctrine (about which more appears here).

The government agreed to settle Williams v. United States just before Christmas 2014 without admitting any negligence or other wrongdoing. The four years needed to reach a resolution offer just one indication of how hard plaintiffs and their attorneys must work to hold organization accountable for medical mistakes and malpractice.

Please remember that every time a person gets a bad result after receiving care or treatment from a doctor, that does not mean the doctor has committed malpractice. The vast majority of situations don’t rise to the level of malpractice at all. But it may be worth it to your or your loved ones to speak with an experienced malpractice attorney to consider your options.


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