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Malpractice Liability for Postoperative Lymphedema

Feb 15, 2016 | Surgical Errors

Many different complications can occur after surgery. Because the body is in a vulnerable condition, it increases the likelihood of health problems. Post-surgery blood clots and infection are two of the more common complications that crop up after surgery. Although it is less common, lymphedema is a very serious complication that can result in health issues throughout a patient’s life.

More About Lymphedema

Lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic system is compromised. When the lymph nodes do not function properly, fluid is re-circulated into organ, tissue directly instead of being transferred into the blood stream as normal. This causes swelling and puts the body at risk for infection. Signs of lymphedema can include fatigue, fluid retention, skin discoloration or deformation and severe swelling. If it is not treated, it can result in elephantiasis.

This condition is either hereditary or caused when lymph nodes are damaged or removed. There is a relatively high risk of lymphedema in cancer patients as one of the known side effects of radiation therapy is damaging to the lymphatic system. In 2007, 0.95% of all cancer patients had lymphedema and the number increased steadily to 1.242% in 2013. In the US, there are over 121,000 people with cancer-related lymphedema. Although it is incurable, lymphedema can be treated through techniques that range from physical therapy to pharmaceutical options.

Breach of Standard of Care and Medical Malpractice Liability

Medical negligence can result in lymphedema. However, proving that the condition was caused by a healthcare provider’s actions can be a huge challenge, especially when it is a situation where of the known potential side effects of treatment is damage to the lymphatic system.

Usually, when high risk procedures are involved, doctors make sure that they get informed consent from patients. This means that patients declare that they are aware that there is a risk of lymphedema and that the physician is not liable in that situation.

As with other medical malpractice cases, a lymphedema cause of action requires proof that the standard of care was breached and directly caused harm to the patient. The standard of care encompasses post-operative care, so if a health care provider misses signs of lymphedema, there may be a viable cause of action. It is a doctor’s duty to make sure that the condition is properly diagnosed.

Doctors need to be aware of the potential for lymphedema after surgery. Certain patients who undergo surgery, such as mastectomies or other procedures with damage to or removal of lymph nodes, are known to have a high risk of the complication. As mentioned earlier, patients receiving radiation treatment are also at high risk. The standard of care demands that doctors recognizes these risks and ensure that development of the condition is monitored.

Complications in Consent Forms

If it is known that there is a risk of complication, the consent form for the medical procedure should include it. Although it is not necessary to list every complication in the consent form, if one isn’t on the form and the patient suffering that complication, there may be a medical malpractice claim against the doctor for performing the surgery without obtaining informed consent from the patient.

No legal release form can prevent a patient from bringing a legal claim if there was harm that was caused by negligent treatment. If the errors that a hospital or doctor made amounted to negligence, there is no legal form that it can hide behind from a medical malpractice claim.

If you or a loved one is suffering lymphedema due to the negligence of a New York doctor or hospital, you need to seek the advice of a prolific medical malpractice law firm at Rosenberg, Minc, Falloff, & Wolff of RMFW Law at 212 697 9280. You can discuss the facts of your case free of charge for the first meeting.

We know how to win cases! We have the medical experts that can bolster your case.