Articles Posted in Negligence

Boston Medical Malpractice Attorney Marc L. Breakstone Comments on His Experience with Medical Record Cover-Ups in His Record-Breaking Recoveries

marcbreakstone_125.jpgBOSTON – (February 9, 2012) – Boston medical malpractice attorney Marc L. Breakstone said today, “The Mongan Institute for Health Policy Survey concerning doctors’ adherence to medical standards confirms what we have learned through years of litigation experience: Doctors often conceal their errors to avoid the consequences of their mistakes.”

Mr. Breakstone, who has recovered two of the largest medical negligence awards for individuals in Massachusetts history ($10.2 million and $7.5 million), said that he has seen numerous cases in which doctors have altered medical records or created false medical records to “cover their tracks.” In these two cases, it was shown that physicians, nurses, EMTs and others had either altered, destroyed or recreated falsified records.

These bogus records were revealed after years of investigation and intensive discovery efforts. Mr. Breakstone pointed out that “these falsified records appeared genuine to the patients’ families. It was not until we dug up original pre-altered records that the cover-ups were revealed.” Mr. Breakstone lamented that the falsification of medical records is rarely disclosed. Without the civil justice system, “most wrong-doing would go unnoticed and unpunished,” he said. He also said that it is rare for a physician to admit they had made an error, big or small.

Mr. Breakstone added that it is important for patients to learn as much as they can about their medical procedures and conditions so they can ask hard questions if matters become complicated. “Patients have a right to review their records at any time, even while in the hospital, and this is one way to make sure mistakes are not buried.”

Mr. Breakstone is available for further comment on the Mongan Institute Report as well as other patient safety issues. For more information, call 978-284-3401 or 617-723-7676.

Click here to read: Doctors Admit They Lie to Patients and Hide Mistakes, Survey Reveals, The Boston Globe, Feb. 9, 2012.
Continue reading

courtcolumns.jpgAn appeal by a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case involving a failure to diagnose cancer has led to a new trial. The Appeals Court reversed the directed verdict, entered by Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady, after finding that the judge had improperly allowed the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict.

The case arose from the treatment of a patient who was having complaints of hoarseness and acid reflux. After several months of delay, a CT scan on the neck was finally performed, which revealed the presence of tumor near the esophagus and in the lung; the tumor was affecting the nerves which controlled the vocal cords. A biopsy revealed a non-small cell cancer which was staged at Stage 3B. Treatment was unsuccessful, and the patient died a year and a half later.

Claims were brought for medical malpractice resulting in conscious pain and suffering, wrongful death, and negligent infliction of emotional distress, among others. At trial, the plaintiff’s expert was prepared to testify that if it had been diagnosed in a timely manner, the cancer would have been at Stage 2 or possibly Stage 1. Judge Brady would not permit the testimony of “possibly Stage 1” and eventually foreclosed any meaningful expert testimony on his opinion about the stage of the cancer. Those rulings set the stage for the judge’s allowance of the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict.

On appeal, the Massachusetts Appeals Court found that the testimony about the tumor being “possible Stage 1” was properly excluded, but that the testimony about the tumor being likely Stage 2 was improperly excluded. Accordingly, the judge’s ruling was reversed, and the plaintiff will now have a second chance at trial.

The Appeals Court also recapitulated the necessary evidence for cases involving the loss of a chance when a physician fails to diagnose cancer. Loss of a chance cases require opinion evidence on the stage of the cancer at the time the diagnosis should have been made. The evidence does not require exact staging; a range of stages is permissible. Also required is evidence on the likelihood of survival after a timely diagnosis. The evidence must include an opinion about the difference in likelihood which more probably than not resulted from the delay. Citing Matsuyama v. Birnbaum, 452 Mass. 1 (2008), the Court noted:

    Under a loss of chance theory, a “plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the physician’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury, where the injury consists of the diminished likelihood of achieving a more favorable medical outcome.” Id. at 17. The court explained: “[P]robability of survival is part of the patient’s condition. When a physician’s negligence diminishes or destroys a patient’s chance of survival, the patient has suffered real injury. The patient has lost something of great value: a chance to survive, to be cured, or otherwise to achieve a more favorable medical outcome…. Thus we recognize loss of chance not as a theory of causation, but as a theory of injury.” Id. at 16.

The case decided was Carreri v. Isihara, Mass.App.Ct. No. 10-P-109 (August 25, 2011).

Continue reading

Every year, Massachusetts families and organizations come together to honor the men and women who are killed and injured while on the job. This year, on April 28, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and the Greater Boston Labor Council are co-sponsoring Workers’ Memorial Day and are publishing the 2011 report: Dying for Work in Massachusetts: Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces.

“It is critical that Massachusetts employers improve the safety of their workplaces to protect their workers. The high rate of death and injury on the jobsite is still taking a horrible toll on Massachusetts workers and their families. It is also unfortunate that enforcement continues to suffer budget cuts,” said Boston personal injury lawyer David White.

As stated in this sobering report, its purpose is to “highlight the fact that work continues to kill and maim workers in epidemic and alarming numbers. The saddest aspect to this loss in lives and limbs is that work-related injuries and illness are preventable.”

The report describes in clear detail the tragedy facing Massachusetts workers and their families. In 2010 alone, 47 Massachusetts workers lost their lives while on the job. (Breakstone, White and Gluck has the privilege and honor of representing the family of one of these deceased workers in their claim for his pain and suffering and wrongful death while on the job.)

The top three causes of fatalities among Massachusetts workers in 2010 were transportation (12 deaths: drivers or workers on roads involved in motor vehicle accidents and plane/helicopter crashes), falls (9 deaths: half being construction site accidents), and commercial fishing (4 deaths).

On Workers’ Memorial Day, we honor the fallen by demanding stronger workplace health and safety protections under the Occupational Health & Safety Administration, because it is every person’s right to be safe in their own work environment.

Join us on Thursday April 28, 2011 from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. outside the Massachusetts State House as we mourn for the dead and fight for the living.

Breakstone, White & Gluck is a proud sponsorof MassCOSH, an organization with a great reputation for protecting workers and improving workplace safety. 

Continue reading

A salmonella outbreak in Rhode Island now includes at least twenty-one people with severe illness, and one death, according to reports from public health officials in that state. Health officials are investigating another eighteen illnesses to see if they are tied to the salmonella outbreak.

Officials are focused on zeppole and other pastries which were made by Defusco’s bakery in Johnston, Rhode Island. According to news reports, investigators found pastry shells stored in boxes contaminated with raw eggs, and also found that custard used as filling was not being properly chilled.

Investigators have identified the particular strain of salmonella, known as Salmonella heidelberg, as the suspected organism responsible for the illnesses. They are now trying to determine whether the death of the elderly Rhode Island resident was caused by that particular strain.

The investigation into the food poisoning outbreak began on March 25, 2011, after nearly a dozen elderly residents of a Warwick nursing home became sick after eating pastries from Defusco’s bakery. Since March 12, two dozen victims have required hospitalization for severe illness.

Salmonellosis, the disease caused by salmonella infection or salmonella toxins, leads to diarrhea, fever, vomiting and abdominal cramps. Most people recover without treatment, but in the elderly, in infants, or people with compromised immune systems, the disease can be very severe, requiring hospital admission for rehydration and antibiotic treatment to prevent the spread of infection. Severe infections can lead to reactive arthritis and death.

Prevention of salmonella illnesses is straightforward. Food which may contain the bacteria, such as chicken or pork, must be prepared properly to kill the organism and destroy any salmonella toxin. Eggs and milk, and their products, must be properly prepared, handled, and refrigerated. Infections can also occur from contact with reptiles, pet rodents, and tainted fruits and vegetables. Proper hygiene–washing hands before and after handling food–is also a common sense method of reducing the likelihood of food poisoning.

Each year over 140,000 people suffer from salmonella poisoning in the U.S. and dozens die from the illness.

Continue reading

By David White

In a case of first impression, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that the provisions of G.L. c. 186, § 19 apply to commercial leases, and accordingly, a commercial property owner may be liable for personal injuries on the premises after receiving notice of a defect of proper repairs are not made. The property owner may be liable even if the tenant is in possession of the entire premises, if the injury is not in a common area, and if the tenant is responsible for repairs under the lease. 

The plaintiff operated a tanning salon in a single-story building which she leased from the defendant real estate trust. In 2000, the plaintiff sent a certified letter to the trustees complaining of leaks and cracks in the ceilings around the skylights. She was injured when she was struck in the eye by falling plaster; she fell and suffered injuries.
At the close of the evidence in the trial the Superior Court judge granted the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict. The judge ruled that G.L. c. 186, § 19 only applied to residential leases; that the plaintiff had not contracted for repairs; and that there was no gross negligence in the previous gratuitous repairs of the roof. The plaintiff appealed.
The SJC reversed. The court found § 19 did apply to commercial premises, provided the landlord has received written notice of the unsafe condition.
The case is Bishop v. TES Realty Trust, SJC-10696 (March 1, 2011).
To read more about this case, please see our the article on our website: Commercial Liability Expanded by Recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Ruling. Continue reading

It is hard to imagine that experienced surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses would need a checklist to avoid obvious mistakes in surgical procedures, but the hard evidence is that simple checklists make an enormous difference in patient outcomes. Complications and medical malpractice rates are cut dramatically. The evolution of the checklist is chronicled in a recent book by Boston surgeon Atul Gawande. books[1].jpg

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto (Metropoliltan Books 2009), Dr. Gawande, who practices at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, points out that the average American has seven operations in his or her lifetime; that there are fifty million operations performed every year; and that there are “upwards of 150,000 deaths following surgery every year–more than three times the number of road fatalities.” And, research has shown, “at least half our deaths and complications are avoidable.”
Inspiration for the procedural checklists for surgery came from the airline industry, which has always used checklists for routine and emergency procedures. Thousands of hours are spent honing the lists so they are not overwhelmingly detailed and difficult to follow. And they work.
Working with the World Health Organization, Dr. Gawande and the research team studied complication rates in a variety of hospitals around the world, some teaching institutions in wealthy countries, some from the most impoverished countries, and some in between. Complications and deaths were assessed. The checklist was implemented and changes were studied. Within months, major complications had dropped by 35% and deaths had dropped by 47%.
The 19-point checklists now in use include some remarkably simple steps: The operating room personnel introduce themselves and state their roles; they discuss any known risk factors; they make sure they have the right patient, the right procedure, and the right part of the body. The list also includes more details such as confirming medication allergies, reviewing the anesthesia plan, discussing concerns about blood loss, identifying pathology specimens, confirming sponge and needle counts, and sending important information to the recovery room.
These simple procedures have saved lives, reduced complications, and saved probably hundreds of millions of dollars and immeasurable pain and suffering. A checklist that costs almost nothing to perform (just a few minutes of everybody’s time) is easily saving far more than any possible medical malpractice “reform” that is being considered in the halls of Congress or state houses around the country.  Further fine-tuning of medical practices, not punishing the injured, is the correct path to malpractice reform.
Advice to Consumers: If you are planning for a surgical procedure, make sure your surgical team is using a checklist to avoid complications in your case. According to Dr. Gawande, over 94% of medical professionals say they would want a checklist for themselves.

Continue reading

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) of Massachusetts today changed the rules in slip and fall cases involving snow and ice.

The Massachusetts high court eliminated the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice, replacing it with the standard rule of reasonable care for all property owners.

The change came in a case involving a Peabody resident who fell on ice in the parking lot of the Target department store at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers. The trial court determined the ice was a natural accumulation and found for Target and the landscaping company. The personal injury case was affirmed by the Appeals Court. The SJC took the matter on further appellate review and invited briefs on whether the time had come to reconsider the long-standing doctrine concerning unnatural versus natural accumulations of snow.

It’s always a tragedy when someone leaves a bar after a night of drinking, steps in his or her car, and causes a motor vehicle accident resulting in personal injury.

For years, that tragedy was compounded by Massachusetts law, which let bars and restaurants operate without liquor liability insurance. Like other businesses, Massachusetts restaurants and bars have traditionally carried general commercial liability insurance covering on-site problems, including slip and falls and other injuries. But this insurance offers no assistance to drunk driving accident victims.

In late May, Massachusetts lawmakers corrected this and passed a law requiring restaurant and bar owners to carry liquor liability insurance. Establishments must carry a minimum of $250,000 per person/$500,000 per accident coverage. In other words, policies must provide a minimum $250,000 for bodily injury or death of one person and a total of $500,000 per incident involving bodily injury or death.

Innocent victims of drunk driving accidents still face the traditional hurdles in proving their cases against bars. One hurdle is strong juror bias. Juries do not hesitate to hold the drunk driver responsible. But juries are often reluctant to blame a drinking establishment for over-serving a patron, even though the law is perfectly clear that a bar has a legal duty to not serve someone who is intoxicated.

Restaurants and bars seek to avoid liability for over-serving patrons, and they typically claim they did not recognize that the patron was intoxicated. The recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case of Rivera v. Club Caravan, Inc., 77 Mass. App. Ct. 17 (2010), reviewed the legal standards for “dram shop cases.” Generally the plaintiff must prove the patron showed outward signs of intoxication by the time he or she was served her last drink. However, circumstantial proof can also be sufficient. If the patron had consumed excessive quantities of alcohol, a jury can draw an inference that he would have been visibly intoxicated. So, where a patron is served fourteen drinks in two hours, as in the Rivera case, or was served six or more white Russians, as in another Massachusetts case, the circustantial evidence is strong enough.  

Personal injury attorney Ronald Gluck called the new law “a step forward” for the safety of Massachusetts residents.  “Restaurants and bars will want to have strong policies in place–and to follow them–not just to avoid liability but also to avoid large increases in their insurance premiums. The new liquor insurance law should help reduce drunk driving accidents in Massachusetts.”

Click here for the full text of the law.

Continue reading

Welcome news today as the Massachusetts Legislature has finally agreed on a new law that will make it illegal to text while driving. Once the bill is signed by the Governor, Massachusetts will be in line with twenty-eight other states that have already outlawed text messaging while driving.

This law comes in the wake of several tragic text message-based accidents. In May 2009, 62 people suffered personal injury after a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority trolley collided with another trolley because the driver was texting his girlfriend. In September 2008, a California commuter train engineer missed a stop signal while trading texts with a friend, leading to a train accident resulting in the wrongful death of 25 people. In addition, there have been several high profile motor vehicle wrongful death cases in recent memory which were caused by inattentive drivers who were texting as they drove.

The law has several other public safety improvements. The new law will require that older drivers renew their licenses in person and take an eye exam every five years beginning at age 75. Older drivers were involved in several serious car accidents in 2009 in Massachusetts. Further, the law will forbid anyone under the age of 18 from using a cell phone while driving.

Boston personal injury attorney David White said of the new law, “Distracted driving is a serious safety problem. The use of cell phones and text messaging are two of the biggest distractions for drivers. These new provisions will vastly increase the safety of Massachusetts roadways.”

A recent study found that texting while driving makes a person twenty times more likely to get into a car crash or near-crash. The problem is most severe for inexperienced drivers. It is hoped that this new law will raise awareness to this growing epidemic of serious personal injuries caused by careless texting motorists.

 For more information

Boston Globe

Virgina Tech Transportation Institute Research Project

Continue reading

Boston bicycle safety has markedly improved over the past two years with several new safety initiatives, including the creation of new bike lanes, publication of the city’s first biking map and installation of hundreds of bike racks.

But Boston bike safety is back in focus this month after three bicycle accidents within the city, including one fatal bike accident that claimed the life of a 22-year-old cyclist and another causing serious personal injuries.

“The biggest problem compared to other cities I’ve ridden in … whether people are biking, walking or driving around the city, everyone has this ‘me first’ attitude,” David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, recently told the Boston Metro newspaper. “That’s a huge issue – changing the way everybody thinks.”

We applaud Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino for calling the city’s first Bicycling Safety Summit after the accidents to provide bicyclists and city officials a chance to discuss ways to prevent bicycle accidents in Boston.

The reality is that both drivers and bicyclists need to take responsibility for co-existing with each other, along with walkers. This means education, especially considering the fact that the laws governing bicycling were amended by the Massachusetts legislature in 2009. Drivers still need to learn their new responsibilities when overtaking cyclists, when turning, and when opening doors in traffic. 

For anyone thinking about enjoying the city on two bicycle wheels this summer, we encourage you to register for one of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition’s upcoming bike safety classes on May 6 or May 19 at City Hall. The move could save a life.

Our firm supports cycling programs and bicycle safety in Massachusetts. We are proud supporters of MassBike, the Northeast Bicycle Club, the Charles River Wheelmen, Bikes Not Bombs and the New England Mountain Bike Association.

Continue reading