$1.3 Million for Delay in the Diagnosis of a Urinary Tract Infection

Failure to Diagnose

$1.3 million was recovered for the wrongful death of a 41-year-old female based upon the failure to diagnose and treat a urinary tract infection in Columbia County, New York.

3 days before her death, the patient presented to the emergency department of a local community hospital with the complaint of a fever for a week with a temperature of 102 to 103 degrees. The patient felt very dizzy and had difficulty walking.  The patient’s fever had not been responsive to Advil.

The attending emergency medicine physician had a urinary tract infection on the differential diagnosis, but he did not order a simple, non-invasive test, namely, a urinalysis, to rule out a urinary tract infection. The patient was released from the emergency department with the diagnosis of an acute viral syndrome.

During the ensuring 2 ½ days, the patient remained home and had little physical activity.  Late one evening, the patient was found unresponsive in the bathroom of her home and was transported to a local hospital by ambulance.  Upon arrival to the emergency department, the patient was diagnosed with a severe anoxic brain injury and tragically, the patient died.

An autopsy revealed suppurative pyelonephritis of the left kidney and urinary sepsis as the cause of death. Pyelonephritis is an infection of the kidney.  A kidney infection is, in essence, a urinary tract infection that has spread into the kidney.

Urinary tract infection is a common infection and a fever is a common symptom of a urinary tract infection. Women are more likely to get a urinary tract infection than men.  Left untreated, infections of the lower urinary tract can spread to the kidneys and may cause permanent kidney damage.

Fever (pyrexia) is the most common presentation of infection. The first line tests in the emergency department for a fever consist of a complete blood count, urinalysis and a chest x-ray.  Urinalysis is a diagnostic test for detecting a urinary tract infection and is a non-invasive, inexpensive test that can be done within an hour.  Urinalysis of the urine would show bacteria in the urine; specifically, the presence of nitrate and white blood cells.

If the urinary tract infection had been diagnosed during the initial emergency department visit, the patient would have received antibiotics and more likely than not, she would have survived.