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Fatal leg infection lawsuit settles

In Hawaii, medical malpractice cases are not always related to complicated medical procedures or a birth injury. Mistakes over simple medical diagnoses or treatment can be fatal. Earlier this month, the parents of an eight-year-old girl settled a lawsuit over the failure to treat a strep infection that led to the girl's death after three trips to the emergency room.

The second grader's mother took her to a clinic in Hilo for treatment of a cut on her leg on Aug. 29, 2012. In a few days, lab results showed her infection had staph and strep bacteria. The parent's attorney claimed that the treating nurse practitioner never studied the girl's culture and gave her the broad spectrum antibiotic Bactrim. This drug is appropriate treatment for a staph infection but not for strep.

As the girl's condition worsened, her parents took her to Hilo Medical Center on Sept. 10 and 13. She died on Sept. 17, even though she was admitted into the hospital one day earlier. She developed acute rheumatic carditis, according to her autopsy results. Her parent's attorney said that as a Pacific Islander, she was susceptible to very serious medical consequences for an untreated strep infection. This death was avoidable and she was not properly treated on several occasions, according to the attorney.

A medical expert in this case claimed that rheumatic carditis is a rare condition for an 8-year-old. He also found that the Hilo clinic's medical treatment and follow-up did not meet the standard of care because the clinic did not contact the family and change the antibiotic after a strep infection was disclosed in the laboratory results.

The federal government paid $850,000 to the family to settle their lawsuit. It made the settlement on behalf of the clinic because it is a federally-qualified health center. The state, for the emergency center, and insurance companies, for three physicians involved in the girl's care, also agreed to confidential settlement amounts. None of the defendants admitted fault as part of these settlements.

Victims of medical malpractice and their families may be entitled to compensation when their care falls below acceptable standards. An attorney can help assure that evidence is obtained and help pursue these cases in court or in settlement negotiations.

Source: Hawaii News Now, "'Unnecessary': Settlement reached in malpractice case after Hilo girl's death," Lisa Kubota, Sept. 11, 2017

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