Q: You're Loved One's Died- You Suspect Foul Play. When you're at the hospital and the emergency room doctor tells you your 50 year-old husband just died after collapsing at work, you want answers. A: Death- Who said it's a natural part of life? Whoever said it might be right, but when you're at the hospital and the emergency room doctor tells you your 50 year-old husband just died after collapsing at work, you want answers. An autopsy investigation reveals that your husband had a leaking aortic aneurysm (a weakened blood vessel) that ruptured. You remember that your husband had complained of increasing back pain for the last few weeks, and a visit to his primary care doctor resulted in a prescription only for muscle relaxants. You then learn that if your husband had the aneurysm detected, it could have been treated electively, and he'd have lived a long healthy life. Now you want even more answers. Doing nothing simply causes the unanswered questions to linger, fester and build steam. Family members often point a finger at those close to the victim. The guilt surfaces rapidly. "Why didn't you do more to help?" "Why didn't you make him go to the doctor again?" "Why didn't you take him to the hospital?" When a family member dies unrelated to any accident, we all want to know, why? Since we can't look into a body and determine what was the cause of death, we look to doctors who perform an examination of the body after death. This is called an autopsy. These doctors are called pathologists, or medical examiners. The doctor literally opens up and looks inside and investigates. The medical examiner is supposed to look at each of our body systems, circulation (heart, arteries, veins), respiration (lungs, mouth, trachea), renal (kidneys, ureters, urethra)...literally all of our internal organs and our external organs. By the end of the examination, the doctor reaches conclusions about the cause of death. Since we are a generally litigious society, many medical examiners are mindful of being blunt and pointing fingers at a culprit who may have caused a person's death. However, in their own subtle way, a medical examiner can and often indicates the precise reason for your loved one's death. Once you know why your loved one died, it is often possible to work backwards and review his condition in the weeks and months leading up to his death. Medical records are invaluable, as are doctor visits made close in time to the death. The questions that a good medical malpractice lawyer always wants to know are: (1) Was there wrongdoing or a misdiagnosis that should have been detected? (2) Did the wrongdoing or misdiagnosis cause or contribute to the death? Finally, a good lawyer wants to know if the condition had been detected and treated earlier, would the outcome be different? Would the death have been preventable? If the answer is 'yes' to each of these questions, then it sounds as if you'd have a valid case in the State of New York. How do we know if the answer to each would be 'yes'? We have to hire a medical expert to review all of your loved one's records. A medical expert needs to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to answer all of your "WHY" questions. Hospital records, doctors visits, interviews with family members, and the autopsy report are all part of the puzzle. Sitting around doing nothing solves nothing. Getting answers when your loved one dies is crucial- especially when you suspect foul play or wrongdoing.
Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer