Lung Surgery Malpractice

Lung cancer causes more deaths in the United States than with any other type of cancer. Often, the only way to treat it is through surgery. It is essential first to understand how lung surgery works to know how medical malpractice may happen before, during, and after the surgery.

What Is Lung Surgery?

Doctors will often recommend lung surgery to treat lung cancer. This is because usually, the only way to ensure the cancer is completely gone is to remove the part of the lung where the tumor is located. There are a few other reasons that a doctor may recommend lung surgery as well.

  • Biopsy: If there is an unknown growth in the lungs, the doctor may recommend a biopsy to look at the growth.
  • Lobectomy: This type of lung surgery involves removing one or more of the lobes in a lung.
  • Blood Removal: Sometimes, trauma can cause blood to form in the chest cavity. Lung surgery may be needed to remove this blood.
  • Pleurodesis: When fluid builds up in the chest, lung surgery may be needed to remove this fluid.
  • Lung Transplant: When a patient’s lung stops working, surgery is required to replace the lung.
  • Pneumothorax: Sometimes, blebs, which are balloon-like tissues, form in the lungs and can cause the lung to collapse.

Before the surgery happens, an anesthesiologist will work to give the patient general anesthesia to put them to sleep during the operation. This will make the patient unable to feel the pain during the surgery.

In thoracotomy, the surgeon will place the patient on his or her side on the operating table, with the arm above the head. The surgeon will cut between two of the patient’s ribs, from the front of the chest wall to the back. This cut will go just underneath the patient’s armpit. The surgeon will either separate the ribs or remove a bone.

The surgeon will deflate the lung that they are working on so air will not flow through it and disrupt the surgery. This will make the operation go easier for the surgeon. The surgeon will then perform the procedure, which may include removing part of the lung or draining the chest cavity. In some cases, the surgeon will also work to remove some of the surrounding lymph nodes.

After the surgery has taken place, the surgeon may place some chest tubes in the chest cavity, which will help drain out the fluids that have built up during the surgery. The surgeon can then use sutures to close the ribs and muscles in the area. The total time for this type of lung surgery may range from two to six hours.

A video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery is less invasive because it involves making smaller cuts than in open surgery. It may be used to remove lung cancer or other tumors. It can also be used to treat a collapsed lung in patients.

In this type of surgery, the surgeon will make several smaller cuts instead of one big cut. The surgeon will place a thin tube with a video camera and light on the end through these more minor cuts. The surgeon will also place several smaller tools through these small cuts, as well.

The surgeon can use these small tools to remove part of the lung or fix any other problems. After this, the doctors will place a tube in the chest cavity to drain off the excess fluid. Compared to open surgery, patients will experience less pain and have a faster healing time.

Normal Risks of Lung Surgery

Every surgery comes with risks, and lung surgery is no exception. Patients may be at risk for one or more complications. These complications are not always the result of medical malpractice because doctors and surgeons cannot always predict how a patient’s body will respond to specific treatments, medications, and procedures. Complications include:

  • Bleeding
  • Pain
  • Infection 

What Is Medical Malpractice?

The doctors and surgeons have several responsibilities before, during, and after the procedure to ensure the health and safety of the patient. These responsibilities are ones that any competent doctor in a similar situation would do. If the doctor does not carry out these responsibilities, he or she is not meeting the standard of care expected for the patient. There are several ways a doctor may not meet the standard of care expected and thus be liable for medical malpractice:

  • Failing to check the patient’s health properly before the surgery. Certain medical conditions, such as high or low blood pressure, diabetes, and problems with the heart and lungs, all need to be under control before the surgery takes place.
  • Failing to test the patient to ensure he or she will be able to tolerate lung removal. The doctor may need to perform tests before the surgery to ensure that the operation will go well and that the patient’s body will be able to handle it.
  • Failing to verify which medications the patient is taking. Some simple over-the-counter medications, such as vitamin E, ibuprofen, and aspirin, can all prevent the blood from clotting, as it should. This can cause bleeding in the patient after the operation has taken place.
  • Failing to inform the patient of risks. Informed consent requires that doctors warn patients of possible side effects and other complications before performing the surgery. A medical malpractice case could arise when the patient would not have chosen the procedure if he or she had been adequately informed of the risks before the procedure.

Failure to Diagnose Lung Cancer

Another reason that people may have malpractice claims is if their doctors failed to diagnose lung cancer in time. The early stages of this type of cancer can often be misdiagnosed as other lung diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma, pneumonia, and bronchitis. The tumors that grow as a result of cancer can often prevent the lungs from getting enough oxygen to the blood. This is because the disease often presents symptoms that are similar to those in other lung illnesses:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Pain in the chest
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the bones, especially in the ribs
  • Coughing up blood, which is also known as hemoptysis
  • Shortness of breath, which is known as dyspnea
  • Difficulty swallowing, which is known as dysphagia

Often, medical malpractice attorneys find that lung surgery cases happen before the surgery would have occurred. This is usually because of a doctor’s failure to diagnose the patient’s condition. This can allow cancer to continue growing in the patient’s lungs. These patients sue for medical malpractice because the disease could have been treated if it had been caught earlier.

Often, a failure to diagnose lung cancer early enough is a result of negligence on the doctor’s part. A simple X-ray or a sputum cytology test can reveal tumors or cancerous cells from the lungs.

Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

An individual who wishes to sue for a personal injury due to malpractice should start the claim as soon as possible. While state laws vary, quite a bit, most states have a very short statute of limitations on how fast an individual must begin the claim after the malpractice has taken place. Individuals who wish to begin their claims should speak with malpractice lawyers as soon as possible.

The process of filing a malpractice lawsuit can be complicated. While laws vary from state to state, there are a few things an individual must be able to prove:

  • There was a relationship between the doctor and the patient. This requirement is in place to prevent people from suing any doctor they happen to meet. The doctor must have been treating the patient for the patient to sue the doctor for malpractice.
  • The doctor must have shown negligence. Even if the patient is not happy with how the treatment turned out, it is not grounds for a malpractice case. To sue for malpractice, the plaintiff must show that the doctor caused them some harm that a competent physician would not have. The judge will consider whether or not the doctor was “reasonably skillful and careful” in the situation. This means that for a successful malpractice case, the plaintiff will often have to bring in another medical professional to testify that this doctor was negligent.
  • The doctor’s negligence must have caused harm to the patient. Even if the doctor showed negligence, this might not have caused harm to the patient. In addition, many patients already have injuries when they come to see the doctor for consultation and treatment. For example, if a patient has lung cancer, he or she may die. However, this does not mean that something negligent the doctor did cause the patient to die – the death may have resulted from lung cancer. It can often be difficult to prove whether or not the doctor’s negligence caused harm to the patient.

Finally, the plaintiff must be able to name specific damages that resulted from the doctor’s negligence. For example, a plaintiff may receive compensation for additional medical bills, lost earnings from work, and physical or mental suffering. 

Wrongful Death Cases

An individual’s loved one could sue for wrongful death if the patient died as a result of malpractice on the part of the doctors or medical facility. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the patient a certain level of care and that the level of care was not met. The plaintiff must also show that the patient’s death was caused by the defendant’s not giving this level of care to the patient. Finally, the plaintiff must prove that this death caused the damages that the estate wishes to recover. These damages may include medical bills, pain, and suffering, and lost earnings for the family of the patient.

Final Thoughts

When lung surgery is appropriately performed, it can be a life-saving procedure. However, when doctors, surgeons, and other medical professionals do not care for the patient as they should, a malpractice claim can arise. Working with malpractice attorneys can help patients navigate the legalities and get the compensation they need for their additional medical bills and the pain. Sometimes, a malpractice law firm will also offer a free consultation for patients who believe they have a medical malpractice case.