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Medical Errors that Lead to Death

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Death by medical error is one of the nation’s leading causes of accidental death. An accurate count of medical error deaths that lead to death is rather difficult to achieve, however, because there is no system of mandatory reporting in place. There are some key indicators that you can look for to determine whether your loved one’s death was due to medical error, however. 

While some sources say that medical errors are the third leading cause of accidental death in the US, others claim that it is, in fact, the leading cause of accidental death in the nation. 

Common Medical Errors that Lead to Death

The healthcare system is a large and complicated process to navigate through, and you tend to be navigating through it when you aren’t at your best. You are likely in pain or ill, and the doctors, nurses, and techs are quite possibly overworked and understaffed, which can create unfortunate opportunities for errors to occur.  Some of the medical errors most likely to lead to the death of yourself or a loved one are:

  • Medication errors
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Delayed Diagnosis
  • Technical Failure

Medication Errors

Some medication errors are more likely to be encountered in a hospital, but others could affect a patient outside the hospital system. The most common medication errors involve failing to administer required medication at all, administering expired medication, improperly preparing medication, or administering the incorrect form of medication, like immediate release instead of extended-release. 

In addition to those medication errors, a patient could also suffer a medical error leading to death due to, administering medication to the wrong patient, failure to consider a patient’s medical history and allergies, failure to consider adverse drug interactions, administering the wrong medication altogether, or administering the wrong dosage.

In a perfect world, these seemingly minor mistakes would cause discomfort at most. Unfortunately, these mistakes can often lead to the death of an unsuspecting patient.


Misdiagnosis can easily lead to death. If a doctor misdiagnoses someone with a serious condition, there is a high likelihood that the treatment plan for the incorrect diagnosis doesn’t match what the treatment plan would be for the actual condition suffered by the patient. If a patient is being treated for the wrong illness, then his or her actual condition is continuing to worsen while time and resources are being wasted pursuing the wrong problem.

Chicago medical malpractice lawyers will help you determine whether it’s likely that your loved one died due to a misdiagnosis of a medical condition. If it seems to be the case, they will be able to help you put together a strategy for the next steps you’ll likely want to take.

Delayed Diagnosis

Similarly to misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis can easily lead to unnecessary death in patients. If a patient is suffering from any number of serious conditions, including nearly all types of cancer, then the proper and expedient diagnosis is a necessity to ensure the best chance of survival.  

A diagnosis can be delayed for any number of reasons. Often, a delayed diagnosis comes due to no fault of the physician, such as if he or she is being forced to wait on insurance company approval for a test or procedure he or she deems necessary. Fault can be assigned to the doctor or hospital, however, in a situation where other unnecessary and time-consuming tests are performed first in an effort to increase a billing.

Technical Failure

Medical equipment may cause the death of a patient if it is defective, has been improperly maintained, or has not been maintained at all. In the case of defective equipment, the fault will lie with the manufacturer, but with improper or complete lack of maintenance, the fault would lie with the physician or hospital that is using the faulty equipment.

What Causes Fatal Medical Mistakes?

There can be many causes of fatal medical mistakes. Quite a few of them are institutional problems due to staffing issues within hospital systems. Some of the most common underlying problems that cause fatal medical mistakes are:

  • Communication problems
  • Information flow
  • Training
  • Workflow
  • Patient Issues

Communication Problems

Inconsistencies in written and verbal communication can easily become issues that lead to medical errors. The miscommunication could be between the doctor and the patient, or it could be between the doctor and the nursing staff, or even between the medical staff and the lab technicians within a hospital.

Information Flow

Information is often not passed on to a patient correctly, or the healthcare professionals involved don’t ensure that the patient has retained the pertinent information. A recent Mayo Clinic study found that a shocking percentage of polled patients either couldn’t name their diagnosis, didn’t know all of their prescription names, couldn’t tell you what each prescription was for, or were unaware of the potential side effects of the medications they’d been prescribed.


Despite the best efforts of a lot of hard-working people in the medical profession, the evolution of the field means there will be new procedures to perform or constantly improved and safer ways of performing existing procedures. There are people in the medical field performing procedures that they aren’t properly trained for, and that could lead to the death of patients in adverse circumstances.  

Some teams also lack proper training in information turnover to another team during a shift change. Missing critical information about a patient with a serious condition during these turnovers could lead to the death of the patient in certain instances.

Work Flow

Improper staffing in a busy hospital can lead healthcare professionals to make mistakes that they would otherwise be unlikely to commit. An overworked and overloaded doctor or nurse who has too many patients to see in the time allotted is much more likely to make inadvertent mistakes that could, unfortunately, lead to the untimely death of a patient who would have recovered otherwise.

Ordering incorrect tests and procedures is one way these fatal mistakes could occur. Failing to order necessary tests or procedures is another. An overloaded doctor is much more likely to order the wrong medication, method or dosage. An overworked nurse is much more likely to fail to catch the doctor’s error before administering the drugs.

Patient Issues

Patient issues can be a contributing factor in several of the causes of medical mistakes that lead to death.  Patient misidentification, for example, could cause improper medication to be administered, medically required procedures to be withheld, and in some documented cases, has even contributed to mistakes as large as an organ being transplanted into the wrong patient. Naturally, this can endanger both the patients that have been misidentified.

Insufficient patient assessment can cause a myriad of problems like ordering unnecessary tests, not ordering tests or procedures that could be life-saving in a timely manner, or failing to gather drug allergies prior to the administration of medication.  

Lack of communication with the patient can lead to post-discharge health concerns if, for example, he or she isn’t educated about what may have an adverse effect when combined with his or her prescription medication.

Can You Sue for a Deadly Medical Mistake?

If you can provide evidence that a medical mistake is the cause of your loved one’s untimely death, you have grounds to file suit. Chicago wrongful death attorneys will sit down with you to discuss your options and begin to form a strategy for how you’ll prosecute your claim. Who you sue will be dependent upon the cause of death and who or what was a contributing factor.

In the case of faulty equipment, your suit could be against the manufacturer of the piece of equipment in question. If, instead, your loved one’s death was caused by a lack of maintenance or improper maintenance on the equipment, you’ll be looking at the physician or hospital system that owned and operated the piece of equipment.

In most cases, your attorney is likely to recommend hiring a medical expert to help you build and prove your case. A medical expert will be able to clearly explain what caused the death of your loved one, why it caused his or her death, and who, if anyone, is responsible. The medical expert you hire to help build your case typically testifies in a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of you, the plaintiff, later. His or her testimony will go a long way toward convincing a jury of both where the responsibility lies in the death of your loved one, and how much that has impacted you financially.

If your loved one has passed away prematurely due to a medical mistake or malpractice, your malpractice attorney will help you present evidence supporting your case so that you can recover from your loss financially, at least. Nothing can bring back your loved one, but you shouldn’t be stuck with the bills and loss of potential earnings on top of the loss itself.

About the Author

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Law Group, Ltd.

Chicago accident lawyer Kurt D. Lloyd