All posts by Ryan Springer

Ryan Springer is an attorney whose practice focuses on medical malpractice, personal injury, and complex civil litigation.

Recording Medical Procedures for Patient Safety

Medical Surveillance

As many as 98,000 Americans die every year as the result of surgical errors and mistakes made by hospitals (misdiagnosis, incorrect dosages, incorrect prescriptions, etc.).  The number could be even higher, as many of cases of malpractice are not even reported. Lawsuits arising from medical malpractice are usually long, drawn-out and complex.

One thing that would lead to detection of error and earlier resolution of malpractice cases would be recording of surgical procedures and patient-physician encounters.  Technology developed at the University of Toronto is similar to the “black box” recording devices in airplanes and commercial vehicles, and would help patients and doctors alike.

The American Medical Association already recognizes the benefit of recording patient interactions for public use, education, and other purposes.  Additionally, medical records are already covered by stringent privacy laws and regulations, so recordings of surgical procedures and other patient interactions would be similarly protected.  If more procedures were recorded, patients who are injured by medical negligence would have convincing evidence of malpractice.  Likewise, doctors would be protected from frivolous allegations if the recordings showed no error.

Wisconsin lawmakers have proposed “Julie’s Law,” which is named after Julie Ribenzer, a patient who died after a surgeon administered too much anesthetic.  Utah should join with states that have laws to allow patients to have their medical procedures to be recorded.

Physicians as “Expert Witnesses”

During a trial, the jury’s opinions and impressions about the case are critical.  One of the things I learned from my most recent trial was how the jurors weighed the testimony of expert witnesses.

In a malpractice case, the plaintiff will have her experts; the defendant physician will have his.  In a lot of cases, jurors will conclude that it is a “tie” because both sides had an expert to back up their case.  For a plaintiff, who bears the burden of proof, a “tie” is actually a loss.

This is important because the “tie-breaker” is often the defendant physician himself.  Not only does he testify about the factual circumstances of the treatment, but he often goes far beyond that, testifying as an expert on his own behalf.

In a recent decision, a Connecticut appeals court discussed the proper scope of testimony for a defendant physician who is essentially acting as an additional expert witness on his own behalf.  It is a valuable reminder of how important it is to be well-prepared for examining doctors who are acting not only as factual witnesses, but as medical experts.  A malpractice lawyer needs to be familiar not only with the legal aspects of the case, but also have a strong understanding of the medical issues, relevant literature, and prevailing standards of care.

Patient Safety, Medical Technology, and Malpractice

One of the reasons that medical malpractice occurs so frequently is increased reliance on computerized systems, automatic orders, and inadequate training on the proper use of medical technology and devices.

Distracted Doctor

Thankfully, the healthcare industry is starting to take note.  A recent article titled “New Medical Technology Poses Safety Problems if Users not Trained Properly,” published by the online periodical Modern Healthcare, addresses this increasing problem.  As the article states:

Recent studies have found that rapid implementation of newmedical technologyelectronic health records, patient monitoring devices, surgical robots and other tools —can lead to adverse patient events when it is not thoughtfully integrated into workflow.

Although advances in technology and science have advanced medical care and increased quality in many areas, there is no substitute for conscientious and attentive clinical decision making.  Unfortunately, sometimes health care providers rely too heavily on computerized systems and technology, and too little on what each individual patient needs.  Add in poor training, and you’ve got a recipe for medical malpractice.

Medical Malpractice and the “Apology Rule” Trick

As a medical malpractice attorney, I like to know the insurance defense industry’s tricks.  A recent article published by the Monthly Prescribing Reference discusses one of them.  The article addresses the frequent failure of health care providers to empathize with patients who have suffered as a result of adverse outcomes and medical malpractice.  These “expressions of empathy” are a trick designed to deter people from holding negligent health care providers accountable in court.

Utah Medical Malpractice Attorney

Frequently, when I meet with new clients, they tell me about how they went into the hospital for a routine procedure only to wake up hours–or sometimes days–later having suffered a catastrophic injury.  While it is true that there can be known, unavoidable complications in medicine, often, the additional injuries are the result of negligence and poor communication among the medical team.  Patients feel like insult has been added to injury when none of their doctors will tell them what went wrong.

Health care providers aren’t dumb; they know when they’ve made a mistake.  More often than not, if a doctor or other clinician knows that an error was made due to negligence, they get tight-lipped, they do little follow-up, and no matter what, they never tell the patient.  People who trusted a professional to provide necessary health care often feel abandoned and start looking for answers to the questions that the doctors just won’t answer.  This usually leads to them contacting a medical malpractice lawyer.

Insurance companies and the corporations that run hospitals know this, and they don’t like it.  As a result, they have been encouraging physicians and other providers to offer carefully worded statements of “empathy.”  As the article puts it, doctors are being “trained to express empathy without admitting fault.”  It is rare that a negligent provider will come right out and admit their mistake–I’ve seen it once in hundreds of malpractice cases and in over ten years of practice–but more and more frequently doctors will offer rehearsed speeches designed to discourage injured patients from pursuing a malpractice claim.

They feel safe doing this, because the medical lobby has passed laws designed to keep such statements out of court.  In Utah, the law says that “expressions of apology” are inadmissible in court.  This so-called “Apology Rule” allows negligent health care providers to say they’re sorry…they just don’t have to mean it.

Fortunately, the Utah Court of Appeals recently narrowed the scope of the Apology Rule.  In Lawrence v. MountainStar Healthcare, a nurse negligently administered an injection intravenously (into the vein) instead of subcutaneously (under the skin).  After the patient suffered a severe reaction, crying out in pain, vomiting, experiencing heart palpitations, and other symptoms, her treating providers and hospital risk managers admitted a mistake had been made.  They even went so far as to say, “[Y]ou don’t have to worry about it. We’ll take care of you. Things are going to be okay”; “You don’t have anything to worry about on your end. We’ll make sure it’s taken care of”; and, “[E]verything is going to be okay. Things will be taken care of.”

Utah Malpractice Lawyers

Of course, things weren’t taken care of, and the patient had to take the hospital to court.  There the hospital’s team of lawyers fought to keep statements acknowledging error and promising to take care of the patient out of court under the Apology Rule, and the jury never heard about them.

Not surprisingly, the patient lost.

But on appeal, the appellate court decided that admissions of fault are not apologies, and the jury should have heard them.  This case was a huge victory for injured patients, and helps to minimize the effectiveness of the insurance companies’ “Apology Rule” trick.


Blaming Lawyers for Obstetrical Malpractice?

A recent article in Utah’s Deseret News suggests that the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits is causing obstetricians to perform unnecessary Cesarean sections.  C-sections are a medical procedure where a surgical incision is made through the mother’s abdomen to deliver the baby.

Obstetrical Malpractice

The article restates outdated statistics published by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) for the premise that unnecessary C-sections are on the rise.  In fact, more recent data shows otherwise.  According to another article in USA Today:

[T]he most recent data on C-sections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the while the overall C-section rate has not budged much recently after years of increases, the rates at 37 and 38 weeks (for both elective and needed procedures) have fallen.

The threat of unnecessary C-sections being caused by the threat of malpractice lawsuits is false.  Holding negligent health care providers actually increases patient safety for everyone.  The rates of C-sections are actually declining. Moreover, If obstetricians are performing unnecessary C-sections, they are putting their own interests ahead of the patients.  If the procedure is not medically indicated, then that is a breach of the standard of care.  Doctors should do what is in the best interest of their patients.  Physicians who put their own concerns ahead of their patients are responsible for those decisions, not the lawyers who represent people legitimately harmed by medical malpractice.

In some cases, C-sections are encouraged as “elective” procedures, ostensibly for the benefit of the mother.  But in fact, the C-sections and elective inductions are ordered so that physicians can maintain control over their busy schedules and perform more deliveries–thereby generating more revenue–for the physicians and the hospitals.  These unnecessary C-sections and inductions frequently lead to serious, yet avoidable complications.  These medical errors can cause serious birth injuries.  Attorneys who advocate for families who have suffered as a result of obstetrical negligence are not the problem; the problem is the negligence itself.

Prescription Drug Overdose

I’ve previously written about the dangers of prescription drug malpractice, which often results in overdoses and even death.  Many of these cases involve drugs like OxyContin and Methadone.

Utah Painkiller Attorney

Today in the St. George News, there’s an article that discusses a new proposal that might help reduce the amount of deaths due to drug overdoses: good samaritans who assist emergency responders identify and treat overdose victims will have limited immunity if they are under the influence.

Also in the article are some shocking statistics about prescription drug use in Utah:

In Washington County, between 2008 and 2012 there were 125 confirmed unintentional poisoning deaths caused by drugs, according to Utah Department of Health statistics. Of those deaths, 68 of them occurred in the City of St. George.

The vast majority of poisoning deaths were from prescription pain killers, Southwest Utah Department of Health Public Information Officer David Heaton said. Statewide, there were 502 drug poisoning deaths in in 2012 alone–the highest overdose death toll in Utah history. Of those, 323 were from prescription drugs.

While the proposed immunity law will hopefully reduce the number of deaths, it is also important to remember that someone is prescribing these drugs to their patients.  Patients who have legitimate, serious pain need very close medical monitoring and medication management.  All too often doctors prescribe painkillers without providing the necessary treatment and supervision, leading to addiction and accidental overdose.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to prescription drugs, there are a lot of resources for help.  Here are a few:

Narcotics Anonymous of Utah

Salt Lake County Health Department Prescription Medication Disposal

Utah Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment


Damages in Personal Injury Seminar: June 27

Utah Medical Malpractice LawAlong with some of Utah’s finest attorneys, I’ve been asked to present a seminar on damages in personal injury cases (you can register here) later this month.  As I’ve prepared, I realized that a lot of people who have been hurt by medical malpractice or negligence don’t quite know what to expect.  When I meet with new clients, I explain to them the four elements we need to prove to win the case: 1) The nature of duty owed (sometimes called “the standard of care”); 2) breach of the duty; 3) causation; and 4) damages.  Read more about understanding damages here, since that’s one of the most important aspects of the client’s case. And if you’re a lawyer or a paralegal, register for what is sure to be an outstanding seminar.

Utah Medical Malpractice: Birth Injuries

Birth injuries not only have physical and emotional consequences, they also place a financial strain on the child’s family. I have seen families struggle with the costs of providing physical therapy, special schooling and other care needed for their children. When a birth injury is caused by the negligence of a doctor or other healthcare provider, the family may be able to recover compensation for these costs with the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney. With more than a decade of experience handling birth injury claims, Utah attorney Ryan Springer can determine whether your doctor took proper care during delivery, and the amount of damages that may be owed for your losses.

Was your child injured at birth? If so, you may be able to file a claim against the medical professional who delivered your child. To find out if you are owed compensation, contact birth injury attorney Ryan Springer today.

Birth Injury Lawsuits & Medical Negligence

Utah Birth Injury Lawyers

When an infant suffers a birth injury, the child’s parents may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor or medical professional(s) who delivered the baby. To have a valid claim, negligence must have led directly to the birth injury. Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare professional’s performance falls below the standard of care expected in the medical community.

Birth injuries that are caused by medical negligence may arise from:

Improper Forceps Use: When a mother is having difficulty delivering her child or if the infant is improperly positioned in the womb, the attending physician may use forceps to help the child along. Use of forceps can reduce the child’s risk of oxygen deprivation and fetal distress, conditions that have been linked to cerebral palsy and other birth injuries. Improper use, however, can cause nerve damage in the child’s neck and chest, and other less severe injuries to the head.

Improper Vacuum Use: When an infant has difficulty escaping the birth canal, a vacuum may be needed to assist the baby. Vacuums can be suctioned to a baby’s shoulder or skull to guide the child through the birth canal. Doctors and nurses are responsible for properly placing the vacuum on the infant. When the vacuum is improperly used, severe injuries to both the mother and newborn can result.

Delay in Ordering a Caesarian Section: Emergency C-sections may be ordered if the child is suffering from fetal distress. This often occurs when the child’s heart rate slows as a result of a sudden drop in the mother’s blood pressure, bleeding from placental abruption or other problems in delivery. Uterine rupture, cord prolapse, slowed labor, and placenta previa (placenta covering the cervix) may also require an immediate C-section. If the delivery team fails to recognize these problems or delays in ordering a C-section, they may be liable for any resulting injuries.

Hypoxia: Hypoxia occurs when the child’s brain is not receiving enough oxygen. During child birth, a tangled umbilical cord, infection or damage to the placenta can result in hypoxia. Medical practitioners are trained to detect hypoxia in advance and to take steps to eliminate the risk of further harm. If the doctor fails to notice the hypoxic event and take quick action to avoid injury, they may be liable for any resulting damages. If hypoxia is not quickly addressed, the child can develop serious mental and physical disabilities.

Utah Birth Injury Attorney

If there has been a birth injury in your family, contact Utah malpractice attorney Ryan Springer for a free consultation and evaluation of your claim.

Utah Medical Malpractice Cases: What Are The Challenges?

Medical malpractice victims are treated as second-class citizens by Utah law. As a result, only a handful of law firms still handle these cases, and even fewer are successful. The odds favor the doctors and hospitals because the Utah State Legislature has enacted special laws to protect negligent doctors at the urging of powerful medical lobbyists. The doctor and hospital insurance company lobbies have made it expensive and difficult for patients to bring suit.

Utah Medical Malpractice

Additionally, lawyers for malpractice victims have limits placed on their fees. On the other hand, there is no limit on what medical malpractice insurance companies can pay lawyers to defend doctors, hospitals, chiropractors and other health professionals — indeed, they can spend millions of dollars to defend bad doctors, hospitals, Intermountain Health Care, and other health providers when they are guilty of inexcusable wrongdoing, paying victims nothing.

Utah medical malpractice lawyer Ryan Springer represents innocent people hurt by their care providers and has done so for over a decade. He proudly represents people injured while receiving medical care from doctors, hospitals, clinics and HMOs throughout the State of Utah. Contact Ryan Springer to discuss your Utah medical malpractice case directly by calling (801) 502-8735, or by filling out the submission form below.  He has the skill and experience to help you bring your case.  He knows the laws and the procedural games the insurance company lawyers will try to play.  And he has the compassion to know that your case is a personal matter, that it’s scary, and that you need someone who cares.


Utah Medical Malpractice Cases: Why Do They Take So Long?

One of the most frustrating things for clients in medical malpractice cases is how long the process can take.  Often, being the victim of medical negligence forces people to use the civil justice system for the first time.  It can be an intimidating and frustrating process, but ultimately, it results not only in help with medical bills and lost wages, it compensates for pain and suffering as well.  Additionally, it teaches negligent health providers a lesson, making health care safer for everyone.

One of the earliest stages of a medical malpractice case is called “discovery.”  Discovery is a way to get information from the other party before trial. You can get any information from the other party that is relevant to the case. Use discovery to find out what evidence and arguments the other parties might use in their cases and at trial. Additionally, discovery can be used to constrain what evidence will be able to be offered at trial.

Medical malpractice cases have their own challenges when it comes to discovery.  Often, medical records are voluminous.  Sometimes they are stored electronically and require special knowledge and expertise to access them.  For instance, in birth injury cases, the original fetal heart rate tracing will have clues that are not contained in the digital version routinely produced in discovery.


There are three major purposes of discovery:

 First is the preservation of relevant information that might not be available at trial . . . . A second purpose of discovery is to ascertain the issues that actually are in controversy between the parties . . . [d]iscovery can be utilized to determine what really is at issue so that the parties can concentrate on obtaining evidence on those matters that are actually disputed. Finally, modern discovery allows a party to obtain information that will lead to admissible evidence on the issues that are in dispute.[1]

Once a lawsuit begins, the exchange of information between the parties and formal discovery is governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure. Each jurisdiction will have its own discovery rules. These rules allow the parties to obtain information from each other in several different ways. Utah recently enacted a new set of rules related to discovery.  It is important that if you or a family member have been harmed by medical negligence, you hire a lawyer who is familiar with these rules.  All malpractice actions take some time, but retaining a lawyer who has experience with the unique discovery challenges in medical malpractice cases is an important consideration.

Utah medical malpractice lawyer Ryan Springer has more than a decade of experience in litigating medical malpractice cases.  He knows the kind of games that hospitals and insurance companies play when hiding records or making discovery difficult, and he will fight to find the facts needed to win your case in court.  To schedule a free consultation, call (801) 502-8735, or fill out the contact submission form below.

[1] Jack H. Friedenthal, et al., Civil Procedure 386-87 (3d ed. 1999).