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Matt SowellMalpractice due to misdi­ag­nosis of stroke symptoms

As malpractice lawyers who specialize in stroke lawsuits, we frequently represent stroke victims who did not receive appro­priate stroke care, because their symptoms were initially misdi­ag­nosed. When a person has a stroke that affects their balance and speech, unless those symptoms are carefully evaluated, they can be misdi­ag­nosed as the result of drugs or alcohol. It is common for a person having a stroke to have slurred speech, babble, or be unable to find their words. They may also have balance issues that make them stagger or stumble as they walk. Doctors and nurses commit medical malpractice when they fail to consider stroke when a patient exhibits these symptoms.

Misdi­ag­nosing stroke as intox­i­cation

We are currently repre­senting two clients in medical malpractice lawsuits who are perma­nently disabled, because their stroke symptoms were misdi­ag­nosed by their health care providers. In one case, our middle-aged client went to an urgent care center for evalu­ation of his “stroke-like symptoms” — weakness and tingling on one side of his body and slurred speech. The doctor quickly dismissed our client’s concerns about stroke and directed him to stop drinking vodka. Instead of sending our client directly to a stroke center hospital, our client was discharged with a prescription allergy medicine and instruc­tions to start taking a baby aspirin daily. The next morning he woke up with the entire left side of his body paralyzed. Our client now lives in a nursing home and will require close super­vision and assis­tance for the rest of his life.

Misdi­ag­nosing stroke as a drug overdose

Another one of our clients, who is only 49 years old, recently collapsed in her home. Paramedics who came to help found some painkillers in her home. She was promptly taken to the closest Primary Stroke Center hospital. In the hospital’s Emergency Department she slurred her words and could not maintain consciousness. Instead of activating the hospital’s stroke code protocol, the Emergency Room doctor and nurses negli­gently assumed that she was under the influence of the painkiller, which included a narcotic. Even more alarming, they did not change their misdi­ag­nosis even after tests of her urine and blood revealed that she had NO narcotics in her body. The Emergency Room nurses told our client’s family that they were going to move her to a darkened room and let the effects of the medicine she was believed to have taken wear off. The next morning, her family returned to find our client in the same room, still uncon­scious and lying in her own urine. A stroke specialist was consulted and quickly diagnosed her has having suffered a massive stroke. By then it was too late to make any attempt to reverse the stroke. She has facial drooping, cannot speak, and is also paralyzed on one side of her body. She will also require constant super­vision and assis­tance for the rest of her life.

These cases reflect a disturbing trend we are seeing in lawsuits surrounding misdi­ag­nosis of stroke: people who should know better are quickly jumping to the misdi­ag­nosis of stroke symptoms as being caused by drug or alcohol impairment. Recently in Tampa, a man was found in a car stopped on the side of a road — uncon­scious and unable to commu­nicate. Police arrested the man and placed him in a holding cell where intox­i­cated prisoners were taken to sleep off their intox­i­cation. The following morning, the man was evaluated by the jail’s nurse and it was deter­mined that he had suffered a massive stroke. Several days later the man died, because his incar­cer­ation had prevented him from receiving appro­priate medical care. A lawsuit brought for the family of the dead man was settled for $1,000,000.

Likewise, earlier this year in Virginia, a police officer found another man sitting in his car at a stop sign. When the driver did not move or answer any questions, the cop assumed that the driver was under the influence of some intox­icant. When the driver did not respond to the cop’s demand that he get out of the car, the driver was pepper sprayed and shocked with the officer’s taser. It was later deter­mined that the driver was suffering a stroke.

The impor­tance of stroke lawsuits

These lawsuits emphasize the impor­tance of seeking care from qualified stroke profes­sionals at the very first sign of stroke. They also illus­trate the impor­tance of medical malpractice lawsuits in protecting stroke victims from negligent health care providers. If a physician lacks the motivation to take the time to distin­guish the symptoms of stroke from the effects of drugs or alcohol, a large jury verdict against them can certainly provide that motivation.

Should you have a stroke, you should seek help from a stroke specialist. Likewise, if you suffered a stroke that was negli­gently treated, you should seek help from a lawyer who specializes in stroke lawsuits. If your life has been ruined by a stroke that may have been caused or mistreated by someone else’s negli­gence, call us for a free evalu­ation of the stroke care you received.

Matt Sowell is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who focuses his practice on medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury claims, partic¬ularly those where the client has suffered a stroke. He holds an AV preem­inent peer review rating from Martindale-Hubble. Matt was the founding chairman of the Stroke Litigation Group of the American Associ­ation for Justice, the largest organi­zation of trial lawyers in the United States.

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