Loved One Died Suddenly? Pulmonary Embolism May Have Occurred

This video features S. Randall "Randy" Hood, a Medical Malpractice attorney based in South Carolina.

South Carolina Medical Malpractice Lawyer Randy Hood

Video Transcript:

Randy Hood:

Pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency. It's very, very, very serious.

Judy Maggio:

If you have a loved one who died from an undiagnosed pulmonary embolism, could you have a medical malpractice case? That's the question we're gonna have answered today on Ask the lawyers. Hi everybody, I'm Judy Maggio with AskTheLawyers.com, and my guest today is South Carolina attorney Randy Hood. A quick reminder, before we get started, if you want to ask Randy questions about your specific situation, simply go to AskTheLawyers.com, click on the top of the page, there's an Ask The Lawyers lawyer's button there, and you can walk through the process and get that question to Randy. Thanks so much for joining us today, Randy, we appreciate it.

Randy Hood:

Hey, how are you doing, Judy?

Judy Maggio:

Doing great. Doing just great. Thanks so much for joining us. I have a first question that is just merely a definition, tell us what pulmonary embolism actually is. 

Randy Hood:

A pulmonary embolism is simply a blood clot that travels to your lung. Pulmonary embolism is a condition, but the actual clot itself is referred to as either a pulmonary embolism for one or pulmonary emboli if there are multiple. 

Judy Maggio:

So how serious is this? And can it be fatal? 

Randy Hood:

A pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency. It's very, very, very serious. If someone has shortness of breath, that is a reason to go to the doctor. If you've not been short of breath and then you become short of breath, it could be a number of things, but one of them could be a pulmonary embolism, and if that's the case, then you need emergency medical treatment. If you also have some other factors that go along with that, it could rise the level of certainty that you do have a pulmonary embolism, and that could include a swollen calf, swollen leg, warm to the touch calf or leg, a bad cough... but really shortness of breath, and is a really... It's a sign that something's going on in your body, and if it's a pulmonary embolism, it needs to be treated immediately.

Judy Maggio:

Are there certain people who are more at risk for PE or certain medical situations that leave you more at risk?

Randy Hood:

Absolutely, anyone who has a hip replacement or a knee replacement, some type of joint replacement in their lower extremity, they're at risk, period, the end. For two reasons. One, you disturb the blood flow in that particular part of the body is called stasis, and you also are going to be sedentary, meaning you're not moving around, and when you have a disruption to the blood flow stasis, and you have a sedentary lifestyle combined with that, you become predisposed to pulmonary embolism. That's why most people, when they go through a hip replacement or a knee replacement, they get prescribed either aspirin or some type of anticoagulant medication, but the African-American population is at higher risk. Someone who is obese is at higher risk. Someone who has cancer is at higher risk. Things that cause disruptions and in certain types of bodily functions, including blood flow or an injury to a body part, those are things that can actually predispose someone, and that can be called a provoked pulmonary embolism, but you can also have an unprovoked pulmonary embolism, and that's just you’re a 55-year-old truck driver who sits a lot of the time, and then develop shortness of breath and goes to the doctor and they do an EKG, and...The EKG is fine, and then he goes home and he dies two days later from a pulmonary embolism, because you have to do a number of different things when it's part of something called a differential diagnosis. And a differential diagnosis simply means it could be in the category of the things that are going on, and if it's in the differential diagnosis, they need to exclude it. You can use a pulse ox to see what their pulse ox is, but to exclude a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, it requires something called a D-dimer, which is simply a very simple blood test, they can be offered at almost any medical facility to either it rules out a pulmonary embolism for somebody that is on the low end of the spectrum in regard to potential diagnosis.

Judy Maggio:

So when it comes to medical malpractice and a case involving pulmonary embolism, what situation has to be there to make it a medical malpractice situation?

Randy Hood:

Unfortunately, every time that I have been involved in one, it usually involves someone who's had an autopsy because they've had a recent medical procedure or someone that died unexpectedly, and so there was an autopsy and in an autopsy it was found that they had a pulmonary embolism or pulmonary emboli. And when that happens, if someone dies and they have this condition, you need to talk to a lawyer because if they've seen a doctor in the recent past with complaints of shortness of breath, the medical term is dyspnea, or you have chest pain, or you have a slow one calf, or it seems sore or is painful. Those are the types of things you would be looking for in the medical records to see if there was some type of pre-determined factor that should have been called by the doctor that would have contributed to the death of your loved one. 

Judy Maggio:

What if someone just isn’t sure whether their particular situation qualifies as medical malpractice, what would you tell them?

Randy Hood:

Are you talking about specifically in regard to pulmonary embolism?

Judy Maggio:

Yes, in regards to pulmonary embolism.

Randy Hood:

After having done a number of these cases over the years, I think it's really a situation where it's usually someone that you don't expect to pass away. It’s somebody that's pretty vibrant, they can be in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. They may have had a hip replacement or they may have had some type of arthroplasty, some type of joint replacement, but they're still vibrant and then they die unexpectedly. When that happens, I can look... Somebody tells me the signs and symptoms that they're having a week or two before their death, you can almost always say, “Well, that's probably a pulmonary embolism,” and who do they see and what were their signs and symptoms, and what did the doctor do to try to stop any type of effect of that emergency condition. 

But if someone dies and someone suspects it’s a PE or they know it's a PE, you need to call a lawyer immediately.

Judy Maggio:

So if someone does bring a case to you, how important is documentation, bringing that documentation to say the initial appointment?

Randy Hood:

Documentation is important in any case, period. There are cases where it’s more important than others, and a pulmonary embolism case, if you have an autopsy, and this is an if, if you have an autopsy, it's already done. It's documented what the cause of death is, and then it's a matter of back-tracking and looking at what's documented in the medical records or the medical notes about the signs and symptoms that were complained of by the patient, but it's always important to have any kind of documentation because I can't tell you how many times I've looked at something, and the patient said that, well if the patient's deceased they can't tell me, but their family member who was with them said, Well, they told me that that this is what they told the doctor, or they were with them when they did tell the doctor, and then it's not in the medical record anywhere. I took a deposition yesterday and it involved a pulmonary embolism, and in this specific case, the medical professional testified that she had told the patient to go to the emergency room, but it was nowhere in any documentation. I suspect that wasn't done. I'm not saying that she lied, but I think that maybe sometimes they're selective amnesia or they don't want to believe that they've done something wrong that contributed to someone's death. Documentation is critically important, but we do have ways around situations, if there is a lack of documentation but we're able to prove that somebody died from a pulmonary embolism.

Judy Maggio:

Should people expect the hospital or the doctor to let them know if if a mistake was made or delayed diagnosis?

Randy Hood:

Oh, absolutely. Most medical facilities have an accrediting organization and the largest accrediting organization in the United States of the Joint Commission, and the Joint Commission has certain standards, policies and procedures, but if you're a member, you're supposed to adhere to those particular things, and in almost every hospital or a medical facility in the United States of America, they have something called a sentinel event policy. A sentinel event is when a patient dies or suffers some type of injury and it's unexpected, and when there's an unexpected injury or death, they need to find out what happened. The patient or their family needs to know. That's only fair. From a moral and ethical standpoint, we deserve to know what happened to us or our loved one, if it shouldn't have happened. Unfortunately, that's the exception, not the rule. And in my career, a medical facility or a medical provider being honest about they did something wrong, is 5 percent of the time or less? 90 percent of the time, it requires us to follow a lawsuit and to fight and uncover terrible, terrible things before they actually accept responsibility, and we get compensation for the injured individual.

Judy Maggio:

Such important information today. Thank you so much for answering our questions, Randy, and that is going to do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyers. My guest has been South Carolina attorney Randy Hood. A quick reminder, if you have a specific question for Randy, simply go to AskTheLawyers.com, click the button at the top of the page that says Ask the Lawyer, and you can walk through the process there, and it is completely free to get those questions answered. Thanks to all of you for watching today. I'm Judy Maggio with Ask The Lawyers.

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