A young man went in for hip surgery at a Virginia (VA) hospital and came out forever changed due to an egregious medical error.  The young man explicitly requested not to be given narcotic pain medication, but a nurse failed to adhere to this simple request and administered fentanyl (based on an order from a physician), according to Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful pain medication. In fact, it’s 80 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more powerful than heroin. Yes, you read that right – more powerful than heroin! As a result, the young man went into cardiopulmonary arrest and was deprived of oxygen for a prolonged period of time. Fortunately, he survived, but suffered brain damage.

The victim received a $1,528,000 settlement for this terrible incident. Given the circumstances surrounding this medical mistake, I’d say this settlement was justified.

Roughly 200,000 people die every year due to preventable medical errors and hospital-related infections, according to a report by Hearst Newspapers. And this is just the number of reported deaths from medical mistakes. Since many states do not have a mandatory reporting system, the number could be much higher.

In the discussions revolving around health care reform, the issue of preventable medical errors was rarely broached. Sadly, the onus was placed on so-called tort reform and vilifying plaintiff attorneys. However, the attorney representing the young man who will forever struggle with brain damage was a plaintiff’s attorney and he successfully litigated a settlement that will help the victim deal with a lifetime of medical expenses. How is he a villain in our legal system? The truth is, he isn’t.

We need to place a national spotlight on preventable medical mistakes. Too many incidences similar to the young man who went in for hip surgery at a hospital and came out with brain damage occur every day. We need a national reporting system so we can fully evaluate the errors that take place followed by a blue-ribbon commission to implement an action strategy that will reduce the number of people severely affected by medical errors.