As we age, we spend more time with doctors. Maybe we need blood pressure medication. Perhaps we’ll develop arthritis in our fingers. Maybe there’s an increased risk of cancer, or stroke, or any of the many, many conditions and illnesses that seem to affect the elderly population a bit more. We have every right to expect that our doctors are going to take more care with us, or with our loved ones, because even the healthiest patients will go through the aging process.
But what happens when a doctor makes a mistake? What happens when a diagnosis is missed, or a surgery leads to an infection?
If the patient is young, pursuing a claim for damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit is more likely to yield a higher award. After all, a 35-year-old rendered paralyzed by a surgical error has lost out on the rest of his life, and maybe his ability to raise a family and support himself in the workplace. A 70-year-old woman, however, is in a different position.
The delicate issue of elderly care
Recovery is harder on the elderly. As one report published by CNN explains, “Many elderly patients… deteriorate mentally or physically in the hospital, even if they recover from the original illness or injury that brought them there. About one-third of patients over 70 years old and more than half of patients over 85 leave the hospital more disabled than when they arrived, research shows.”
For this reason alone, many doctors are reluctant to move forward with surgical intervention unless absolutely necessary. Furthermore, if an elderly patient develops an infection, he or she may be more likely to suffer irreversible effects.
Is it malpractice, or just the aging process?
There are a few hurdles that older victims or malpractice may face that a younger victim would not:
- Pre-existing conditions, which can exacerbate a new injury
- A weaker immune system, which leaves them vulnerable to infection and longer recovery times
- Mental health deterioration, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, which leaves them unable to advocate for themselves
- Greater medical bills, because of additional services or medications required for their care
Because of these considerations, a hospital, rehabilitation center, nursing home, or medical professional is more likely to claim that any deterioration is a known-risk – that it’s not malpractice; it’s the aging process.
Older patients receive smaller compensation packages
This line of defense can work, too. According to Diederich Healthcare’s annual medical malpractice payout analysis, malpractice victims in the 70-79 age range are awarded just over one-third the amount of compensation as those in the 60-69 age bracket, and just over a quarter of those in the 50-59 age bracket. When the victim is between 80 and 89, the total compensation brackets drop even lower: less than one-sixth and one-eighth, respectively.
This seems wrong on multiple levels. Yes, awards for lost wages and future earning potential would, necessarily, be lower; we know this to be true. But even we were surprised by how much lower awards were for older patients.
We believe that any victim of medical malpractice, no matter what his or her age is, deserves justice. If your elderly loved one was injured by a negligence doctor, or died as a result of an error or misjudgment, make sure to seek legal counsel.