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Sepsis and the law

SEPSIS AND ITS LEGAL IMPLICATIONS

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is when an infection develops into a life-threatening emergency.  Chemicals are released into the blood stream which cause body wide inflammation to develop.  The inflammation causes further problems and can cause multiple organ failure and even death if septic shock develops.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are wide and are similar to many other diseases, but they include:

  • fever;
  • feeling dizzy or faint;
  • confusion or disorientation;
  • low blood pressure;
  • fast heart rate;
  • diarrhoea;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • slurred speech;
  • severe muscle pain;
  • severe breathlessness; and
  • less urination.

What are the severe injuries associated with Sepsis?

Sepsis causes organ damage.  This means that people with sepsis might suffer injuries to their liver, kidney and lungs.  Further the body’s response to sepsis can cause blood supply to be concentrated in the heart and brain and leave the extremities of the body without adequate oxygenated blood.  This means that the patient might end up losing their fingers and / or their toes.  Death is also associated with sepsis.

Is late diagnosis of Sepsis negligent?

Many cases of medical negligence involving sepsis relate to the failure to diagnose and treat sepsis while it is still in its early stages.

Sepsis is much easier to treat in its earlier stages than in its later stages.  If Sepsis is not picked up in its early stages, it is arguable that a golden opportunity to get on top of the disease was missed.

EG

Mary had a high fever of 39 degrees, she was confused and had been vomiting and felt very unwell.  She presented to the Emergency Department of her local regional hospital.  Mary was reviewed but was deemed to be well with a viral infection and was discharged home.  The following day Mary collapsed and was brought back to hospital via ambulance.  The treating medical team considered that she would have made a full recovery had she only been treated 24 hours previously.  Mary unfortunately developed complications following her infection and now lives with a compromised kidney and she has lost the tips of her fingers.

Is inadequate infection control that results in sepsis negligent?

If as patient develops sepsis as a consequence of infection control which is considered to be below the accepted standard of infection control, the patient will be able to bring a case in negligence for the injuries they developed once the infection developed into sepsis. 

EG

Ricky had superficial burns on his legs and arms following a camping accident.  Ricky was eight years old.  Ricky went to the local regional hospital and had his wounds dressed and assessed. 

The following day Ricky’s wounds were redressed and swabbed for infection.  The result of the swab from the leg wound showed the presence of an organism – Enterobacter.  The medical team assumed it was a contaminant and re-dressed the wounds.  Importantly Ricky was not given antibiotics.  Ricky went on to develop sepsis and suffer organ damage and a hypoxic brain injury.

Is the failure to take precautions to prevent infection negligent?

Where there were precautions which could have been taken which would have avoided the development of an infection and therefore sepsis, the patient will be able to bring a case in negligence for the injuries they developed once the infection developed into sepsis.

EG

Nelly was planning a holiday and she saw her doctor about travel vaccinations.  She told her doctor that she planned to trek in rural Pakistan.  He reassured her that she was fit and healthy and did not need any vaccinations.  Nelly caught Typhoid fever which turned into sepsis.  She became seriously unwell.  She has since recovered but she has now developed post sepsis syndrome and suffers from disturbed sleep, nightmares, muscle pains, fatigue, reduced mental functioning and a loss of confidence.

What does the legal case claim?

An action in negligence will focus on the ‘but for’ scenario.  This means what position would the person have been in ‘but for’ the negligence.  In the scenarios detailed above:

Mary would still have been unwell as she already had early-stage sepsis.  But if she had been given early intravenous antibiotics it is likely that she would have avoided the organ damage and the loss of her fingertips.  Her claim would be for these additional injuries.

Nelly should have been given a typhoid vaccine as the disease was in the country she travelled to.  Had she had the vaccine she would not have developed typhoid fever or sepsis or post sepsis syndrome.

Ricky would have received antibiotics and the Enterobacter infection in his leg would have been controlled and it would not have developed into sepsis.  He would have avoided the organ damage and the hypoxic brain injury.

What does the legal process involve?

  1. Have a free consultation (in the office/ phone or zoom) with our team.
  2. We will advise you, if we think you have a case.
  3. If we think you do, we will collect your medical records and review them.
  4. We will instruct an expert doctor to comment on the care you were given.
  5. If the expert doctor agrees there was negligence, we will file court proceedings.
  6. We will claim financial compensation for you aimed at putting you back in the position you would have been in but for the injury.

Time limits

Time limits apply, these range from 3 years from the date of injury to up until 12 years in certain cases.  Do not delay get prompt advice.

Next Steps

Call our office or message us and we will call you to make an appointment for a free initial discussion about your legal options. We have offices at Erina on the Central Coast or Sydney’s CBD.

Remedy Law Group