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The Third-Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. (Hint: It’s Not a Disease)

When Americans consider the leading causes of death in the United States, our thoughts almost always turn to disease. Studies show that heart disease is the leading cause of death, followed by cancer. What is the third cause? Stroke? Accidental deaths? It turns out that, according to a study reported at, medical errors kill over 250,000 Americans each year. This means that, were “medical errors” recognized as a cause of death by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, it would be the third-deadliest cause of death (just behind heart disease and cancer).

What are Medical Errors?

The term “medical errors” actually covers a large amount of mistakes and lapses of judgment that medical professionals may commit. Whenever a medical professional – a doctor or surgeon, for example – takes an action that should not have been taken or fails to take action where appropriate, a medical error is committed. This can include:

  • Failing to order the proper diagnostic tests for a patient presenting with a certain set of symptoms;
  • Ordering appropriate tests but then failing to read them properly or missing crucial information contained in the test’s results;
  • Operating on the wrong limb or organ (there is a terrifyingly-large number of cases in which doctors were supposed to remove a failing kidney [for instance] and instead removed the wrong kidney. Or doctors were supposed to amputate one limb but instead amputated the wrong limb);
  • Leaving surgical instruments or other foreign objects inside a surgery patient;
  • Prescribing the wrong medication for the patient’s condition, giving the patient a medication that negatively interacts with another medication the patient is prescribed, or filling the prescription with the incorrect medication;
  • Failing to inform other medical professionals about important health information related to the patient so they can make appropriate treatment decisions. For example, a doctor who fails to inform a surgeon of the patient’s longstanding heart problems can put the patient at risk of serious injury or death.

As the study at illustrates, these medical errors can place the patient’s life in serious jeopardy. Given that it is a common sentiment for patients to trust their medical care professionals to provide competent care that will help them (not cause further injury), the patient may not know the true extent of harm caused by a medical error until it is too late to reverse the damage.

Why You Need Help from Our Attorneys

Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. is a Philadelphia-based medical error law firm with over forty years of experience helping injured patients and their families address the financial costs and burdens caused by medical errors. We can help you and your family answer the question of whether the harm was caused by poor medical care. Contact our firm to discuss your case and learn how our experienced legal team can help you. You can call our office, or contact our office using our online form.

Contact us for your consultation (215) 567-3500