‘Wrongful Life’ Claims & Lawsuits may be rising due to COVID-19
Many Americans are creating “end-of-life” guidelines. We have shown great progress these last few months in our battle against the coronavirus pandemic, however, as it has not yet been brought under control, there are many folks who may want to consider a review of their advanced healthcare directives.
Recent wrongful life lawsuits bring about questions as to whether medical professionals are doing what they should be during the pandemic.
First, let’s examine what a Wrongful Life Claim seeks to achieve.
A wrongful life lawsuit is typically one that charges some kind of negligence or act of malpractice by a medical professional and tends to focus on a claim that a doctor or nurse failed to save a patient’s life.
There have been recent cases of healthcare providers getting brought before a judge either because they neglected to listen to a patient’s wishes or fully read through the patient’s advanced care directives when they should not have intervened to prevent these deaths from occurring. Though this must be a difficult position for any medical professional, it begs the question, what is the point of creating end-of-life directives if they aren’t going to be followed?
The movement to convince folks to create end-of-life instructions has been underway for decades, yet remains an uphill battle. A 2017 assessment of 150 different studies which involved nearly 800,000 American participants, discovered the unsettling news that among those aged 65 and older – only 45.6% have created their advance directives, a tally which accounts for barely half of all nursing home occupants.
Recent data indicates that these numbers have been climbing ever higher during the ongoing coronavirus situation. This predicament has been shining light on the need for medical providers to fully respect a patient who has a Living Will or Advanced Care Directives documentation.
Sometimes, institutions have been found to have overlooked these critical documents within a patients’ chart, or have otherwise disregarded conversations with health care proxies. Any doctors who have doubts about a patients wish to die – is able to override these instructions in many jurisdictions.
One California case went quite a bit differently than the patient would have intended. Dick Magney had decided to undergo palliative treatment and his treatment providers were all complying with his wishes. That is, until someone alerted the Humboldt County’s adult protective services agency that neglect was potentially occurring. This led to Humboldt County filing a petition to take control of his treatment plan, which removed his wife from her role as the existing decision maker. At that point, the county decided that Mr. Magney should receive antibiotics that he’d clearly refused much earlier. The county went as far as receiving temporary conservatorship status in this case.
“This just led to him suffering longer,” said Allison Jackson, the attorney that represented Mr. Magney’s wife. Unfortunately, Mr. Magney ended up passing away in 2015.
The state’s appellate court eventually ruled that the petition by the county that sought to remove Mr. Magney’s wife was fraudulent.
Mrs. Magney later went on to receive over $200,000 in reimbursement payments for lawyers’ fees and followed that up with a Federal civil rights complaint, which led to an additional $1 million settlement with the county. The two attorneys who filed the petition representing Humboldt County are now facing disciplinary action from the California state bar.
Wrongful Life Lawsuits are Increasing
These kinds of awards and rulings, in addition to news coverage, have led more families to seek legal remedies and have encouraged more lawyers to take on these types of cases.
All medical professionals swear an oath to inform their patients about known complications, dangers, or adverse outcomes when serious health complications arise and serious procedures are warranted. In most states, whenever a healthcare provider fails to deliver a level of care that any other medical professional would provide in the same or similar circumstances, duty of care can be considered breached. The patient to whom the breached duty was owed then also has the right to sue the provider for medical malpractice.
Hopefully, these recent lawsuits will have an overall chilling or deterrent effect on health care providers who don’t feel that advanced healthcare directives are important. As with any legally binding document, there will often be repercussions for failure to adhere to the constraints of any legal agreement.
This recent article from ABC News covers another case of a wrongful life complaint which centers on a severely disabled child who was born after a community clinic nurse inadvertently gave the mother a flu shot, instead of a birth-control injection.
If you have any doubts about your own Living Will or feel your advanced healthcare directives are inaccurate or out-of-date, please don’t hesitate to contact our experienced estate planning attorneys so we can provide you with documents that will align with your unique health circumstances.
Call our office at 509-328-2150 today or visit our contact page to send us a quick message about setting up an appointment.
We’ll help you create legally binding documents that will help you avoid unnecessary suffering due to unwanted medical treatment.
View this deeper look at “Wrongful Life“ from the New York Times.