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Drunk, Stoned, or Having a Stroke: Can the doctor or nurse caring for you tell the difference?

Malpractice 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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About The Author

Picture of Matthew Sowell

Matthew Sowell

Matt is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who focuses his practice on medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury claims, particularly those where the client has suffered a stroke. Matt is a national leader in stroke litigation, having served as the founding chairman of the Stroke Litigation Group of the largest organization of trial attorneys in the United States.