Health News

Single, Childless Adults Worth Less Than Married With Children?

Florida lawmakers are again grappling with a state law aimed at parents of adult children who have died as the result of medical malpractice, says a story by CBS Miami, among other news sites.

Currently, state law forbids such parents from seeking noneconomic damages — including pain-and-suffering awards — in cases in which the adult child is survived by neither a spouse nor a child. (However, surviving spouses and children under 25 in Florida are permitted to seek pain-and-suffering damages in wrongful-death cases.)

House Bill 6011, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach (R-North Fort Myers), would alter this so as to permit parents of adult children to seek damages in wrongful-death cases, even in the absence of a surviving spouse or child. A similar bill in the Senate — SB 262, sponsored by GOP Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, whose district includes Monroe County and parts of Miami-Dade County — would do much the same thing.

The House bill has passed out of committee, but the Senate bill is encountering headwinds. On February 1, GOP Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Danny Burgess halted the bill’s progress, noting it wasn’t yet “ready for prime time.”

“There’s truly a gap that could be filled,” said Burgess. “What we were trying to do with the amendment is to narrowly tailor the issues where there has been a financial reliance or dependency or an adult child with a disability. What we didn’t want to do is open the floodgate.”

Doctor groups and the insurance industry fear that even a tailored bill would do just that.

Trial lawyers, however, feel that changing that law would “correct a huge miscarriage of justice,” said Jordan Dulcie, an attorney representing the Florida Justice Association, a trial lawyers’ group.

“Just because you are 26, just because you are unmarried, perhaps you have no children, does not make your life any less valuable,” he added.

Docs Sued Over Teen’s Permanent Blindness

In January, a Montana state court heard the claim of a teenager who argued that a delay in treatment for his gradual vision loss resulted in permanent blindness, according to a posting on cvn.com, the website of Courtroom View Network, which also hosted a webcast of the proceedings.

In mid-December 2017, Brett Camen, of Libby, Montana, began experiencing headaches and blurred vision. Taken by his mother to Cabinet Peaks Family Medicine, he was diagnosed with an acute intractable headache and prescribed sumatriptan. When his symptoms persisted, Camen was taken to the emergency department (ED) at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, about 90 miles from Libby. There, he underwent a CT scan, which came back normal. He was also referred to a neurologist employed by the medical center.

In the meantime, two other healthcare professionals saw Camen. The first, an optometrist in Libby, tested the teenager and found a severe papilledema in each of his eyes. A subsequent test indicated that Camen had significant visual field loss.

A day after his initial visit to Sorensen, Camen saw a physician’s assistant (PA) at a local community health center, who consulted with the neurologist and ordered an MRI and lumbar puncture.

The MRI showed no abnormalities, but the results from the lumbar puncture were more ominous. Camen’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure was found to be excessive, and some 20 cc of fluid was removed. Once again in consultation with the physician, the PA started Camen on acetazolamide, which is used to treat pseudotumor cerebri, a disorder that can lead to vision loss. Several days later, the teenager reported to the PA that his headache had subsided, although his vision was still impaired.

On January 3, 2018, Camen saw his neurologist, who confirmed what he described as a “new diagnosis” of pseudotumor cerebri (idiopathic intracranial hypertension). In addition to noting his patient’s other symptoms — vision loss and obscurations, papilledema, and high lumbar pressure — he recommended that Camen continue on acetazolamide and see him again in 6 weeks.

Two days later, Camen had an appointment with an ophthalmologist at Glacier Eye Clinic, in Kalispell, who concurred with the diagnosis while also noting that Camen’s CSF pressure was high and that his sight in each eye was diminishing. The ophthalmologist said he would confer with the neurologist about the treatment plan.

Over the next 9 days, Camen’s vision further deteriorated, despite additional treatment.

On January 7, 2018, following another visit to the ED, the dosage of acetazolamide was increased. A day later, he again saw the optometrist who’d examined him in December of the preceding year. Concerned, the optometrist forwarded new photos of the patient’s eyes to the ophthalmologist, while Camen’s mother alerted the neurologist that her son’s eyes were worsening. The neurologist recommended increasing the dosage of acetazolamide yet again, instructing that he be contacted should Camen’s symptoms not improve in several weeks.

After two additional visits with the ophthalmologist — and a recommendation from the neurologist that the teenager have a “semi-urgent” visit with a neurosurgeon — Camen was admitted to Kalispell Regional. There, on January 15, 2018, a neurosurgeon inserted an indwelling shunt to relieve pressure from the patient’s brain.

But the procedure was too late: before the shunt could be placed, Camen’s high CSF pressure had rendered him permanently blind.

The plaintiff’s suit faults both the neurologist and the ophthalmologist for departing from “accepted standards of care.” (Their respective medical institutions are also named in the suit.)

For his part, the suit alleges, the neurologist should have recognized the urgent need for a neurosurgical evaluation no later than December 21, 2017 — the date of Camen’s lumbar puncture. As for ophthalmologist, the suit dates his alleged negligence to January 5, 2018, when he saw Camen for the first time. At this point, the plaintiff’s attorney claims, the ophthalmologist either knew or should have known that his patient urgently needed a neurosurgical evaluation.

It’s expected the defense will argue that neither doctor departed from the accepted standards of care.

The trial began on February 1 in the Montana Eleventh Judicial District Court, in Flathead County. At press time, there was no word of its outcome.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA, is an independent journalist based in Mahwah, New Jersey.

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