Helping the Injured in Tennessee Since 1977

Brain death: how a misunderstanding turns into litigation

It’s quite possibly very true to say that a majority of our readers are not familiar with all of the medical terminology that a doctor might use. As a result, misunderstandings can occur, especially if the doctor is not adept at effectively communicating a patient’s condition to their loved ones. Residents here in Tennessee can see this playing out right now in two separate cases -- one in Texas and the other in California -- where just such a misunderstanding has resulted in litigation in both cases.

Although both cases are miles apart they share a commonality. In each case, the condition of the patients was not properly explained to the families, leading them to believe that brain death was closer to a coma or a persistent vegetative state when in fact the terms are not interchangeable. In the California case, a misunderstanding between what the doctor was saying and what the family was hearing has now given the family false hope that their loved one will recover from her injuries even though some experts say this is unlikely.

In both cases, the patients’ families have taken legal action against the hospitals for failing to communicate the extent of their loved one’s condition. Some medical experts say this misunderstanding was a direct result of doctors not understanding brain death as well as say a neurosurgeon or neurologist. If this is the case with brain death, some of our readers here in Tennessee might be wondering if patients in similar situations may have encountered similar misunderstandings or received a wrong misdiagnosis. Did their loved ones know that they could have taken legal action and sought compensation for the pain and suffering this medical mistake may have caused? And if just a misunderstanding has happened once, could we see more down the road?


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