AP Article – March 23, 2005
Family Prepares Lawsuit Over Deadly Mistake At Hospital
SEATTLE — A hospital that got nationwide publicity after apologizing for the agonizing death of a woman who was injected with a toxic antiseptic solution is being sued by her relatives, who say the apology was “public relations.” The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages on claims of wrongful death and negligence against Virginia Mason Medical Center and Dr. David H. Robinson, was prepared for filing Wednesday in King County Superior Court by Lawrence M. Kahn, a lawyer for the family of Mary L. McClinton, 69, of Everett.
Following McClinton’s death on Nov. 23, hospital officials tried to get her survivors to negotiate without the involvement of a lawyer, later refused to consider a settlement proposal by Kahn and “have made no counteroffer for settlement at all,” according to a statement issued by Kahn early Wednesday.
Kahn, who did not give the terms of his settlement proposal, said in the statement the family had not wanted to sue but believes the hospital must be held accountable.
In a statement released Tuesday to The Seattle Times, the hospital said its representatives have approached the family and are “ready to proceed” with settlement talks.
“Our hope is to quickly reach a resolution that will support the healing process for the family,” the statement continued.
McClinton, a social worker who reared four sons and cared for eight foster children, went to Virginia Mason to undergo a non-surgical procedure for treatment of a brain aneurysm. At the conclusion, instead of being injected with a saline solution or radiological dye, she was mistakenly given chlorhexidine, a toxic antiseptic used to clean the skin.
She died after 19 days of constant pain, a stroke, two heart attacks and an unsuccessful attempt to save her life by amputating her lower leg.
Dr. Robert A. Caplan, medical director of quality, subsequently issued a public admission of hospital responsibility and an apology.
“Open discussion of medical errors is essential, because it provides the best opportunity to understand what actually happened and to teach others the important lessons that have been learned,” Caplan was quoted as saying in a note posted on the hospital’s Web site.
The hospital also announced changes in procedure to reduce the chance of similar errors.
“Virginia Mason’s statement was public relations spin pure and simple,” Gerald McClinton, a son of McClinton, said in Kahn’s statement. “Apology is no substitute for atonement when our mother’s death should never have happened.”
Before she died, the family obtained a memorandum on the blunder written to Virginia Mason staff by Dr. Mindy A. Cooper, head of the hospital’s quality assurance committee, and Dr. Robert S. Mecklenburg, chief of medicine, according to the lawyer’s statement.
“Many were aware of the hazard in the system that could lead to injection of the wrong solution and aware of a simple method to prevent this occurrence,” the pair wrote. “No one took action to change the process before this tragedy occurred.”
Copyright © 2005 by The Associated Press.