Staph Infection After Surgery: Is It Medical Negligence?

When a patient develops an infection, it may amount to medical negligence.

Staph infections contracted after surgeries are not uncommon, and depending upon the circumstances surrounding the infection they can form the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

While proving that a staph infection was caused by medical negligence can be extremely difficult, in many cases post-operative staph cases are misdiagnosed or are left negligently untreated. If you think you contracted a post-operative staph infection due to medical negligence, read on to learn more.

A Staph Infection Does Not Always Equal Medical Negligence

If you’ve ever undergone even a minor surgical procedure, you’ve likely had a conversation (however brief) regarding post-surgical infections.

Any time foreign objects are introduced into the body, and any time wounds are present on the surface of the skin, the risk of infection exists. Hospitals and medical providers are obligated to inform you, the patient, of any potential risks involved with a surgery. In our litigious society, this has resulted in mountains of paperwork you are forced to sign before undergoing a procedure.

In that paperwork, you will likely acknowledge that infection is one of the potential risks involved in your procedure, and you will also likely agree to refrain from holding the hospital/doctor liable for a “routine” post-surgery infection. (Learn more about the effect of release and consent forms on medical malpractice cases.)

Hospitals are rife with viruses and bacteria, and staph infections are notorious for taking hold in post-surgical patients. Whether it is the garden variety staph bacteria that can be treated through antibiotics or the more difficult to treat MRSA variety, staph bacteria is almost certainly present in any hospital. And staph infections can take root despite the attentions of health care providers. When this is the case, you will very often have little legal recourse.

First, you’ll have a difficult time finding an attorney willing to take the case absent some obvious medical negligence, and second, even if you find an attorney to take the case, hospitals will fight tooth and nail to avoid liability for “natural complications” arising from surgery.

Medical Negligence Can Lead to Staph Infections

Despite the common nature of staph infections, there are cases where negligent treatment is clearly a cause or contributing factor to staph infections.

One of the most common ways a hospital or medical provider can be found liable for a post-surgical staph infection is in a neglect situation. Staph infections are easily preventable. As long as your wounds and incision sites are regularly cleaned, and the environment in which you are recuperating is likewise actively disinfected, your chances of contracting a staph infection are relatively small.

However, if a doctor or nurse fails to appropriately clean your wounds in an in-patient situation, or if your hospital room is not regularly cleaned or your sheets regularly changed, you likely could make a solid claim for damages sustained due to the hospital’s negligence -- "but for" their negligent post-operative treatment, you would not have contracted the infection. While these types of cases are by no means clear-cut winners, they do often hold enough water to make an out-of-court settlement a real possibility.

Failure to Diagnose or Treat a Staph Infection is Medical Negligence

If you’ve had elbow surgery, and the incision site and your arm in general begins to ache, swell and turn red, odds are you will seek treatment with your surgeon as soon as possible. That surgeon should absolutely rule out a staph infection as a matter of course. If your doctor does not test for, rule out, or appropriately treat a post-surgical infection, you may have the basis for a medical negligence lawsuit.

Doctors are obligated to abide by the medical standard of care in any treatment situation. In nearly every type of surgical case, appropriate post-surgical treatment is part of that standard of care. That means that if your doctor blows off your complaints, or misdiagnoses a staph infection as something else, he may be in violation of the standard of care and liable for medical negligence damages.

It is important to note that, as in every case of medical negligence, you must prove that the doctor’s negligence directly caused you to sustain injury or damages. Failing to diagnose a staph infection or failing to properly treat a diagnosed staph infection (regardless of where and how the infection is acquired) is medical negligence.

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