A Navy SEAL’s Sentinel Event

It is estimated that there are 100,000 preventable deaths that occur in hospitals in the United States each year.  These preventable deaths are very rarely reported to the patient’s family members, despite the facts that these hospital deaths are frequently investigated by the hospitals and determined to have been preventable.

You might ask yourself why if a family member’s death was determined by the hospital to have been preventable, the patient’s family members were not told that the patient’s death was preventable and a result of medical negligence.  The reason is because physicians and hospitals are permitted to investigate and determine the cause of hospital deaths under a cloak of secrecy called “quality assurance” review and “peer” review.

Anytime there is an unexpected death of a hospital patient, the hospital is supposed to investigate that unexpected death and determine whether the death was preventable and whether the death was the result of medical negligence.  However, hospitals and physicians are permitted by state statutes to investigate unexpected hospital deaths in complete secrecy and take the position they are not required to notify the patient’s family members of the results of their investigations.  The end result is that preventable deaths of hospitalized patients are often “swept under the rug,” never disclosed to the patient’s family members and certainly never disclosed to the public.

One such example is the tragic death of a Navy SEAL at a local hospital.  While serving in Iraq, this Navy SEAL had sustained war injuries which left him blind.  However, despite his blindness, this Navy SEAL had returned to school, graduated from college, married his sweetheart and had just begun a full time promising career with a defense contractor.  After undergoing what was to be the last of a series of plastic surgeries, the Navy SEAL was administered excessive doses of narcotic pain medication post operatively, resulting respiratory failure and his sudden, unexpected death.  The Navy SEAL’s unexpected death was investigated by the hospital, which determined that his death was a “sentinel event” and a “never” event, i.e., a preventable death.  Despite this fact, the hospital never notified the Navy SEAL’s surviving wife (who was pregnant with their child) of the results of its investigation, and subsequently claimed that the investigation and the results of the investigation of the Navy SEAL’s death were confidential “peer review” and “quality assurance” review.  Fortunately for the Navy SEAL’s wife, she eventually was referred to our firm.  During the course of litigation, it was discovered that the hospital had investigated her husband’s death and determined that the death was a “sentinel event,” “never event”, i.e., a preventable death.  Shortly thereafter, we were able to obtain a settlement, both with the hospital and the treating physician.