Like most large cities, Chicago offers many healthcare options for clients, with several hospitals to choose from and renowned specialists in many medical practice areas. However, even the best hospitals and the most well-known physicians can make errors due to carelessness or recklessness. When those errors result in injury, they can lead to a medical malpractice claim.
Surgical removal of the gallbladder—known as cholecystectomy—is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the U.S., with the procedure performed more than 1.2 million times yearly.
One of the most common complications of the surgery involves injury to the bile duct during the procedure, which can result in bile leaking into the abdomen or disrupting the normal flow of bile from the liver. If medical staff fail to realize an injury occurred during the surgery, the injury can result in infection or even death.
If you have suffered a bile duct injury as a result of a healthcare provider's carelessness or recklessness during your gallbladder surgery, an experienced bile duct injury attorney from Zayed Law Offices can explain the medical malpractice process that you can use to seek compensation for the financial and psychological impacts of your injury, and also help you understand the types of services our team can provide to assist you with your claim.
Chicago Bile Duct Injury Guide
How Bile Duct Injuries Occur
The gallbladder is a small, sac-like organ located beneath the liver on the right side of the abdomen. This organ's job is to store bile made and released by the liver until it is moved to the small intestine, where it helps absorb and break down food. Sometimes, the gallbladder develops small, hard masses known as gallstones. These stones can result in swelling, pain, and discomfort and lead to digestive system disorders.
A common treatment for this condition is the removal of the gallbladder through a procedure known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy. This procedure is performed through just a few small abdomen cuts, allowing the surgeon to insert a small camera and tool to remove the organ without creating a large surgical opening or scar.
Unfortunately, risks of injury to the common bile duct or the hepatic duct are relatively common, generally due to anatomic differences between patients—which occur in around 15 to 20 percent of patients undergoing the procedure—that can leave the surgeon unclear as to where to clip or cut to remove the gallbladder.
Because these anatomical differences are a well-known source of problems in the cholecystectomy procedure, any surgeon who is unsure is expected to take reasonable action to prevent injury by transitioning to an open procedure in which they are more able to see the organ and its ducts.
While the open cholecystectomy procedure features a longer recovery time, with hospitalization of two to six days after the procedure, it poses far less risk of injuries to the common bile duct. However, some doctors fail to transition to the open procedure, even when they cannot visualize the entire bile duct system before cutting.
Other medical errors that can result in a bile duct injury during laparoscopic cholecystectomy include:
- Inexperience and lack of understanding of how to use the laparoscopic tool.
- Lack of binocular vision tools that provide the surgeon with an undistorted view of the organ.
- Hurrying through the surgery without properly determining if a bile duct injury has occurred.
- Failure to perform imaging tests that would better inform the surgeon of the patient's unique anatomy.
- Failure to monitor the patient adequately after the procedure to discover signs of bile duct injury such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, swelling of the abdomen, and jaundice.
- Failure of equipment used to perform the procedure.
The Physical, Psychological, and Financial Impacts of Bile Duct Injuries
When the common bile duct is clipped, pinched, or burned during surgery, it can cause bile to leak into the abdomen. Bile is an acidic substance that can lead to inflammation and even infection when this occurs. The error can also result in the bile duct becoming blocked, preventing bile from flowing from the liver.
In 10 to 30 percent of cases where a bile duct injury occurs due to a cholecystectomy procedure, the surgeon will realize the error while still performing the procedure and can quickly correct the issue. However, the surgeon often does not recognize the problem and concludes the surgery, only to find that the patient is not recovering as they should. They must then perform imaging tests to identify the problem.
An additional procedure may need to reconstruct the bile duct, often using a piece of the intestine as a patch to repair the damaged area.
Biliary sepsis is a life-threatening infection that can result from a bile duct injury. Studies reveal that among survivors of this type of injury, the quality of life is often reduced, even several years after the injury occurred, with many patients being unable to return to work and losing important work benefits due to disabilities created by the bile duct injury.
Seeking Compensation for a Chicago Bile Duct Injury
If you've suffered a bile duct injury as a result of a medical error during your laparoscopic cholecystectomy, you can seek compensation through a medical malpractice claim filed against the surgeon or the medical facility where the procedure was performed.
Medical malpractice is a type of personal injury claim that involves errors made by healthcare providers that result in injury to a patient. It should be noted that not all bad outcomes result from medical malpractice, as there are risks with every procedure, and not all errors made by doctors and other medical staff will result in injuries.
The Illinois Medical Malpractice Claims Process
To seek compensation for the expenses and impacts you incurred due to a bile duct injury that occurred due to medical negligence, you will generally first file a claim against the at-fault provider's medical malpractice insurance. Medical malpractice insurance is a type of professional liability insurance that protects the provider's finances if they are sued for making a medical error that injures or kills a patient.
Illinois does not legally require healthcare providers to buy medical malpractice insurance. Still, most medical facilities have it to protect themselves from the liability of their workers and require the doctors who have privileges at the facility to carry a policy.
All personal injury claims are complex, but medical malpractice claims are often the most difficult due to the extensive documentation and evidence needed to prove that the injuries resulted from medical error and not simply a bad outcome to a procedure. Here is a look at the different steps in the process.
Hiring an Attorney to Assist You with the Claim
If you've suffered a bile duct injury due to a medical provider's negligence, one of the first things you will want to do after you've obtained the appropriate medical treatment for the injury is attend a free case evaluation with a medical malpractice attorney. This evaluation is a no-obligation conversation that you have with an attorney to discuss your case, obtain answers to your legal questions, and learn more about the services the attorney and their legal team can provide to help you with the claim.
Don't worry about the cost of hiring an attorney. Medical malpractice attorneys work on a contingent fee basis so you do not have to pay for the services of your legal team until a successful outcome occurs. When you and the attorney decide to work together on the claim, you will sign a contingent fee agreement.
This agreement outlines the services to be provided and specifies a percentage of any compensatory award you receive as payment for the attorney's services. The attorney and their team of legal professionals will work on your claim without billing you for these services or requiring an upfront investment. After your claim, the attorney will receive your compensation, deduct the percentage for their payment, and provide you with the remaining funds.
An Investigation of Your Surgery
One of your legal team's first objectives is to thoroughly investigate the events that led up to your injury. This investigation helps the legal team learn more about the evidence and pinpoints who was liable for the injury. Injuries resulting from errors made by a physician generally involve a claim against the doctor's medical malpractice policy. In contrast, injuries resulting from negligence by nurses or other hospital staff are filed against the facility's policy.
Establishing a Value to Your Claim
Contrary to popular belief (and often what the insurance company wants you to believe), compensating someone for a bile duct injury does not only involve paying for the expenses of medically treating the injury.
Compensation for your injury can also include wage loss and the loss of future earning capacity for the temporary and permanent impacts the injury has had—and will have—on your ability to earn an income. Additionally, your attorney will calculate the amount of compensation owed to you for the non-economic impacts of the injury, such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of the enjoyment of life.
Filing the Claim Against the At-Fault Party's Medical Malpractice Policy
Once your attorney has properly valued your claim, they will submit the claim to the insurance provider who services the at-fault party's medical malpractice policy. When they receive the claim, the provider will assign a claims adjuster to the case.
The claims adjuster is an insurance company employee tasked with evaluating the claim, determining if the insured was liable, and deciding how much compensation to offer. While this seems like a fair enough process, bear in mind: the claims adjuster works for the insurance company, and their primary purpose is to protect the company's bottom line.
There are three potential responses that the claims adjuster can make to the claim. They can accept, deny, or offer an out-of-court settlement for less than the established value of the claim. Often, the initial offer by the claims adjuster will be far below the claim's value, and your attorney will negotiate with the adjuster to convince them to increase their offer. If the insurance company fails to compensate the claim, it can be filed in civil court as a medical malpractice lawsuit so that a judge or jury can hear the case and determine liability and compensation.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
One of the most important requirements of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is that the claim is filed within the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims in Illinois is generally two years from when the injury occurred or when the claimant knew they were injured. Even if there is a late discovery of the injury, the claimant has no more than four years to file the claim unless they're a minor who suffered an injury. Minors cannot file legal claims, so either their parents or legal guardians must file on their behalf, or they can file a claim after they reach their 18th birthday.
Failing to meet the statute of limitations in a medical malpractice claim will almost always result in losing the right to use the court process when seeking compensation for your bile duct injury. Because most insurance settlements are a way for the insurance provider to avoid the expenses and uncertainties posed by litigation, if you no longer have the ability to litigate the claim, you likely will not have the ability to garner a fair settlement from the insurance provider either. Your attorney will manage the timing of your claim to ensure that it is filed within the statutory period.
Another important aspect of the medical malpractice lawsuit process is the requirement of an affidavit of merit to be filed along with the lawsuit. An affidavit of merit is a statement that declares that your attorney consulted with a medical professional who is knowledgeable about the medical issues of the case and has experience either teaching or practicing in the medical practice area that is relevant to the case. The affidavit also declares that, from this consultation, the medical professional determined there is a reasonable cause for the lawsuit.
While most medical malpractice lawsuits are resolved by settlement before the case goes to court, the attorney you hire must be comfortable with the court process. Your attorney will handle many pre-trial requirements. A preliminary hearing will schedule the exchange of evidence and depositions, and the insurance provider may request that you undergo an independent medical exam. They may need to file and serve motions with the court, the at-fault party, and their insurance provider, and your attorney will also respond to motions the defendant filed.
The legal team will continue to collect evidence and witness testimony that both help to prove liability and justifies the claim's value. Finally, if the claim does not settle, the trial date will arrive, and your attorney will present your case to the court.
Receiving Your Compensation
After your claim, the compensation you receive as a result of a negotiated settlement or court award is sent directly to your attorney. The attorney will place the funds in a trust and will go to work to settle any medical liens that were placed against the award for payment to medical providers who treated your bile duct injury and health insurance providers who covered these expenses for you while your case was active. The attorney will also deduct the agreed-upon percentage of the award from the proceeds as payment for their services. After that, they will meet with you to finalize the case and turn the remainder of the proceeds to you.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bile Duct Injuries
For answers to questions you have about your specific claim, contact an attorney for a free case evaluation. Here are some commonly asked questions about bile duct injury due to medical error.
What if my attorney cannot obtain an affidavit of merit before the statute of limitations expires?
If your attorney is having difficulty finding a medical professional to consult with about your injury due to the statute of limitations on your claim drawing to a close, they are permitted to file the complaint (lawsuit) without the affidavit but must submit the affidavit within 90 days. Failure to do so will generally result in the refusal of the court to hear the claim. Experienced medical malpractice attorneys have a network of healthcare providers they can turn to for consultation on such matters.
How much is the average settlement for a bile duct injury?
Settlements are truly unique documents, reflecting not only the severity of the injury that the claimant suffered and the personal circumstances they endured as a result of that injury but also their willingness to work with the at-fault party's insurer to formulate an agreement that both sides consider fair. Because of these unique factors, there isn't an “average” settlement.
Your attorney can provide guidance to help you understand how your claim is valued and what constitutes a fair settlement for the expenses and impacts you incurred for you to make the decisions about your case that only you can make, such as accepting a settlement offer or filing a lawsuit.
What if I can't afford an attorney to help me with my claim? Can I file it myself?
Medical malpractice claims are extremely difficult, requiring extensive knowledge in the legal process and medical conditions, how they're treated, and the compensation needed when a bile duct injury occurs.
You need a lawyer who understands the tactics claims adjusters use to reduce or eliminate payments, as well as experience in gathering documentation and witness testimony, even from those who do not want to participate in the legal matter. While there is no requirement to hire a medical malpractice attorney, navigating the process without one usually results in overwhelmed and frustrated claimants and poorly compensated or uncompensated claims.
If You Suffered a Bile Duct Injury, Zayed Law Offices Can Help
Medical professionals are required to take reasonable actions in order to avoid causing injuries to their patients. While many doctors will claim that a bile duct injury is simply a known risk of a procedure, these injuries are often the result of medical carelessness.
The legal team at Zayed Law Offices has many years of experience assisting people in Chicago and throughout Illinois who have experienced injury due to medical errors. Let our medical malpractice attorneys help you make sense of the process and pursue the compensation you deserve. For your free case evaluation, contact us online or by calling (312) 726-1616.
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