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A Law Vegas man filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Summerlin Hospital and numerous doctors and nurses alleging failure to diagnosis and treat of his wife for tuberculosis despite obvious symptoms during and after her pregnancy.  The suit alleges that wheezing and fever should have been clues to test for TB.

Vanessa White went to the same Las Vegas emergency room three times with symptoms ranging from a relentless cough to explainable fever and delirium, but was never tested for tuberculosis.  Her husband said she had been coughing for months, even while getting prenatal care; she often carried around a cup because she would hack up mucus.  He said during four months of her treatment at the hospital, his wife was given 30 different diagnoses; none of those were TB. In July, he moved her to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, but it was too little, too late. Swelling had caused severe brain damage, and Vanessa died.  An autopsy revealed the cause of death was tuberculosis.  One of the couple’s twins then tested positive for TB, but again, it was too late; she died in August. The other twin had died in June; she was never tested.

These terrible tragedies raise questions about how doctors and nurses could miss an illness that is curable if detected early.  In November, a state report said Summerlin Hospital did not take basic precautions when White was sick and visiting her babies in the NICU. Hospital staff allowed the 25-year-old woman to enter the NICU while she had a 103-degree temperature, and the staff did not require her to wear a mask or gown.  In response to the November report on this tragic failure, hospital administration said it would update visitor policies, as well as retrain its staff on proper protective gear requirements for staff and visitors.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, the hospital denies allegations of malpractice.

According to White’s attorney, the failure to diagnose and initiate therapy not only caused the death of Vanessa and her babies, but allowed the spread of tuberculosis infection and disease to others.  Summerlin is also facing a class action lawsuit which alleges that the hospital is to blame for multiple employees and others contracting the disease.  The suit accuses the hospital of negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, and covering up knowledge that employees had been exposed to TB in order to avoid a lawsuit.  At least 20 hospital employees and over 40 others were exposed to and contracted tuberculosis.

Ruben White said he hopes to achieve justice and accountability.  “We’re all accountable for all of our actions, and with this case, I’m the one who paid the price,” White said.  White’s attorney expects a jury award in excess of $25 million, although medical malpractice caps will restrict the judgment $1.5 million or less.

Money cannot make up for the loss of a loved one, yet that is how our society has determined that victims of medical malpractice are compensated.  No matter how badly a person is harmed by medical negligence, in Nevada non-economic damages are capped at $350,000.  That means that the most a negligent doctor would have to pay for all the pain inflicted, all the mental anguish suffered, all of the enjoyment of life taken away, is $350,000.  Who would trade the lives of three loved ones for $350,000?  Yet, this is all Mr. White will be entitled to under Nevada’s tort reform laws. There will be no punishment here, no incentive to practice safer medicine and institute safer protocols.

Why do politicians feel that a jury is capable of deciding life and death issues in criminal cases, yet can no longer be trusted to decide a medical malpractice case?  Tort reform is simply an initiative by big businesses, through contributions to politicians, to protect their profits at the expense of the little guys, citizens like you and me.  It is a license for the health care industry to practice their business without regard to the consequences of their negligent actions, without accountability.  What incentive is there for putting safety first?

You never know when you may become the next victim of tort reform.  Your friendly neighborhood Senator or Representative may be giving away your Constitutional rights. Let the voter beware.

Mark Bello has thirty-seven years experience as a trial lawyer and fifteen years as a leading expert in the lawsuit funding industry.  His company, Lawsuit Financial Corporation, provides necessities of life funding to plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. He is a Member, Justice Pac Member, and Sustaining Member of numerous state and national justice associations.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Rosella A. Alm-Ahearn
    Rosella A. Alm-Ahearn

    It's very easy to diagnose TB. The bacillus is unmistakable. I'm so sorry for Mr. White. Our doctors need re-education. In my childhood I can remember signs saying, "No Spitting" for fear of TB, because it is a droplet borne disease. Doctors, be aware! do a Mantoux test or a chest X-Ray or even the older Gold test.. Let's not go back to the"White Plague" days, when TB killed entire towns.

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