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Doctor's Failure to Properly Refer Patient May Have Led to Amputation

To establish a case of medical malpractice under Missouri law, a patient must show that a doctor failed to meet the requisite standard of care, that what the doctor did or failed to do was done negligently, and that the doctor’s action caused the patient’s injury.

The recent Missouri Court of Appeals case of Wacker v. St. Francis Medical Center shows how a patient provided enough evidence to proceed with her medical malpractice claim.

Patient’s Leg Amputated

More than 10 years ago, the patient had suffered from lymphedema-a swelling in her legs-following a hysterectomy. The condition required physical therapy and medical monitoring for a decade. A few years after the monitoring was complete, the patient started having pain in her left leg and foot, and consulted with several doctors.

Eventually, the patient saw an orthopedic surgeon and described her symptoms, including a numb feeling in her foot, tingling and redness. The orthopedic surgeon diagnosed her again with lymphedema and some related neurological issues and recommended she follow up with her neurologist.

Nearly a year later, the patient went to the hospital due to her leg pain and was diagnosed with a severe blood clot in her leg-a case of deep vein thrombosis. Due to the condition, her leg had to be amputated above her knee on her left leg.

The patient filed suit against the orthopedic surgeon for having failed to diagnose or treat the disease, and for failing to properly refer her to a vascular surgeon who might have treated the condition.

The doctor asked the court for a summary judgment-attempting to end the case early-arguing that the patient had failed to provide expert testimony showing that the orthopedic surgeon had deviated from the standard of care. Unfortunately, the court granted the motion. The patient appealed this decision.

Expert Testimony Provided

The Missouri Court of Appeals noted that to establish a case, the patient’s expert had to offer an opinion on the generally accepted objective standard of care in the profession.

While it was true that the patient’s family medicine expert stated he was not qualified to offer an opinion as to the standard of care for orthopedic care, the orthopedic surgeon’s error was not specifically orthopedic in nature. Instead, the expert offered an opinion on what a doctor who had recently completed a residency would know.

Specifically, a doctor who saw the bluing and other conditions around the patient’s foot, and saw her decreased ability to move her foot and her pain, should have referred her to a vascular specialist. In addition, in a later affidavit, the expert again restated that the orthopedic surgeon had failed to use the degree of skill ordinarily used by a member of the profession under these circumstances.

Therefore, the summary judgment granted against the patient was reversed, and the case based on the doctor’s error was remanded, allowing the patient her full day in court.

Meeting the Standard of Care

When you need medical attention, you should be provided with treatment that meets the appropriate standard of care. However, if you do suffer an unfortunate injury due to medical malpractice, you need counsel who will fervently represent your best interests and seek the compensation to which you are entitled.