Medical Malpractice Involving Radiation Overdose: A Troubling Phenomenon

Yesterday’s New York Times carried an eight-page story entitled “Radiation Offers New Cures, and Ways to Do Harm,” dealing with a surprisingly prevalent form of medical malpractice: radiation overdose.
The story – detailing the progression of radiation poisoning – is as gruesome to read as John Hershey’s Hiroshima, but there are some important takeaways for medical malpractice attorneys.
First, radiation overdoses are disturbingly common – the story cites to one hospital that did not detect an error in its machine’s calibration for more than a year. Second, they are dramatically unreported. One doctor quoted in the story, Dr. Fred A. Mettler, Jr., estimates that only about half of radiation overdoses are ever discovered and reported.
The source of the problem seems twofold. First, doctors are transitioning from the old-fashioned way of administering radiation therapy – an unfocused beam of weak radiation – to the newer method of focused, high-energy radiation administered by linear accelerators. Second, the software that is used to operate these linear accelerators does not seem to have enough fail-safes to make sure that the so-called “multileaf collimators” – equipment that shields the patient – is deployed in the right position.
Radiation overdose is really the intersection of two personal injury fields: medical malpractice (committed by the doctors and other technicians who operate the linear accelerators) and products liability (for the dangerous designs of some of these machines and their software). Decades of products liability litigation has made the industrial workplace safer by sending engineers back to the drawing board to design newer and safer machines. A wave of safety innovation has been the result and today’s factory floor is no longer the same threat to life and limb that it once was.
Let’s hope that medical malpractice and product liability lawsuits against the doctors who operate these linear accelerators and the manufacturers who design them will lead to similar product re-designs, so that simple mindless errors in the radiation ward no longer cause unspeakable tragedies.

If you or someone you know has been injured by radiation overdose, or some other form of medical malpractice, and require the services of a Boston medical malpractice lawyer, call The Law Office of Alan H. Crede at (617)973-6434 to arrange a free in-person consultation.