How Medical Negligence Can Cause Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

An image of a female doctor smiling at a patient.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) casts a long shadow over the lives of those afflicted by it. A condition that can stem from diverse triggers, including trauma, infections, or toxic exposures, ARDS presents a dire threat to respiratory function, often leading to life-support dependence and, tragically, fatalities. However, among the multifarious causes of ARDS, a particularly distressing aspect arises when it results from medical negligence. The emergence of ARDS is often a consequence of medical malpractice in healthcare, particularly as a repercussion of clinical errors.

If you or a loved one have developed ARDS due to suspected medical negligence, it is important to learn more about it. It is also critical to consult with a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers, like those at Raynes & Lawn.

Understanding Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, aptly abbreviated as ARDS, is a formidable adversary, posing a grave threat to individuals across diverse age groups. It strikes as a sudden and severe lung condition, characterized by a cascade of physiological disruptions that impairs oxygen exchange within the body. ARDS can assail one or both lungs, thrusting those afflicted into a life-threatening struggle to breathe.

But how does ARDS develop? Under normal circumstances, the alveolar sacs, those small air-filled structures within the lungs, serve to bring oxygen into the body. However, when ARDS takes hold, these sacs can no longer function properly. The alveolar sacs do not fill with oxygen but with fluid. This makes it more difficult for oxygen to permeate the bloodstream and for organs to receive their vital sustenance.

The onset of ARDS is swift, often manifesting within hours to two days following the triggering injury or illness. This is a medical emergency of the highest order, and its consequences are frequently dire. Shockingly, ARDS exacts a heavy toll on its victims, and according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the statistics paint a chilling picture. While the mortality rate stands at 27% for those with classified mild ARDS, it ominously skyrockets to a staggering 45% for individuals grappling with severe ARDS.

Yet, survival is just one facet of this nightmarish journey. Those who emerge from the clutches of ARDS often bear the scars of chronic complications that persist long after the immediate threat has receded. This chapter of their lives, marred by respiratory struggles and the enduring aftermath of ARDS, stands as a testament to the urgency of confronting this condition head-on.

Complications of ARDS

Individuals who fall victim to ARDS can confront a myriad of complications, each adding a layer of complexity to their battle for recovery. Often, these individuals end up on a ventilator, fighting for their lives. Even if they recover, ARDS will have a long-lasting and profound impact on their well-being. Here are some of the more prevalent and debilitating consequences of developing ARDS:

Blood Clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

For patients tethered to ventilators, a heightened risk looms in the form of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This perilous condition manifests when blood clots form within the veins of the legs, potentially dislodging and embarking on a treacherous journey to the lungs. Once there, these errant clots can obstruct vital blood flow, leading to dire consequences.

Pneumothorax and Collapsed Lungs

The use of ventilators, often deployed to alleviate fluid buildup and enhance oxygen levels, carries with it the unintended risk of pneumothorax, a condition where air infiltrates the space between the lung and chest wall. As the ventilator exerts forceful air pressure, it can inadvertently force air into the external layer of the lung, causing it to collapse. This complication can further exacerbate the already precarious respiratory status of ARDS patients.

Pulmonary Fibrosis and Scarring

In the aftermath of ARDS, the respiratory battlefield is marked by a battleground of scarring and thickened tissue between the alveoli. These once-delicate air sacs are now encumbered by fibrosis and scar tissue, rendering the lungs stiffer and less accommodating to the exchange of life-sustaining oxygen. The consequence is an arduous struggle for ARDS survivors, who often contend with heightened difficulty in oxygenating their bloodstream.


When a ventilator becomes a lifeline, a pathway for potential harm can emerge. The insertion of a tube into the patient’s windpipe, a requisite component of ventilator use, inadvertently facilitates the entry of bacteria. This vulnerability can give rise to lung infections, further challenging the patient’s recovery and complicating their journey back to health.

Cognitive Impairments

ARDS survivors may find themselves grappling with the aftermath of prolonged oxygen deprivation and sedative administration. These factors can lead to long-term cognitive impairments, casting a shadow over their mental acuity and memory. While some may experience a partial restoration of cognitive function over time, others grapple with enduring and sometimes permanent cognitive changes.

Chronic Fatigue and Muscular Weakness

The battle against ARDS can be grueling, particularly for those who spend extended periods connected to ventilators. Muscles weakened by inactivity during treatment can leave survivors contending with chronic fatigue and persistent muscular weakness. This often necessitates rigorous physical therapy and rehabilitative care to regain lost strength.

Psychological Health Issues and Depression

Beyond the physical toll, ARDS can exact a profound emotional and psychological toll on survivors. Many who endure the trials of ARDS find themselves navigating the depths of depression and other psychological health challenges. The mental scars left in the wake of ARDS will take years to heal and may require attending therapy and prescription medication.

What Triggers Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

ARDS is a terrible condition that can developed from an array of factors. These triggers may be from external forces, as well as medical malpractice. Here are some of the issues that can cause the development of ARDS in children and adults:


Sepsis, the systemic and often life-threatening response to an infection, is a common precursor to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Under the influence of sepsis, the body’s immune system goes haywire, often inciting ARDS. Unfortunately, when struggling with both ARDS and sepsis, the prognosis is often bleak.


Whether it is the aftermath of a catastrophic car accident, a fall from a significant height, the result of an assault, or even the dire consequences of childbirth-related injuries, trauma to the chest or head can set the stage for ARDS to emerge.


Infections, particularly those of a severe nature such as pneumonia, can act as the instigators of ARDS. As the body grapples with viral and bacterial infection, the inflammatory response of the body may inadvertently cause the development of ARDS.


The global COVID-19 pandemic has shed stark light on ARDS, with the virus often serving as a catalyst for its emergence. Patients grappling with severe COVID-19 infections are at heightened risk of succumbing to ARDS.

Exposure to Toxins

Smoke from wildfires and other toxins or chemicals often cause inflammation along the airways and within the lungs, sometimes leading to ARDS.

Medical Negligence

In the realm of healthcare, the duty of care entrusted to medical professionals is sacrosanct. Patients rely on the expertise and diligence of doctors, nurses, and healthcare facilities to provide treatment and care that adheres to established standards. However, instances of medical negligence can lead to catastrophic outcomes, and ARDS is no exception.

Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare provider’s actions or omissions deviate from the recognized standard of care that a reasonably competent provider in the same medical field, under similar circumstances, would have provided. When this departure from the standard of care results in a patient developing ARDS, it opens the door to potential medical malpractice claims and the pursuit of compensation for the harm suffered.

Examples of Medical Negligence Leading to ARDS

Here are some ways medical negligence can cause the formation of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in babies, children, and adults:

1. Failure to Prevent Excessive Blood Loss During Surgery

In surgical procedures, preventing excessive blood loss is crucial. Failure to do so can result in patients developing ARDS due to hypovolemic shock, a condition where the body goes into shock due to insufficient blood volume. If this is the result of a healthcare provider’s negligence, it may constitute medical malpractice.

2. Failure to Diagnose, Prevent, or Treat Infections

Timely diagnosis and treatment of infections are fundamental aspects of healthcare. Failure to do so can lead to sepsis, which, in turn, can cause ARDS. If a healthcare provider’s negligence is responsible for allowing an infection to progress to sepsis and subsequently ARDS, it may be considered medical malpractice.

3. Mistakes During Blood Transfusions

Blood transfusions are common medical procedures. Errors in the administration of blood transfusions, such as mismatched blood types or contaminated blood, can have severe consequences, including the development of ARDS. Such errors may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

4. Surgical Mistakes

During surgery, errors can occur that result in physical trauma to the lungs or other organs. For instance, accidental punctures or lacerations to the lung tissue can lead to ARDS. These surgical mistakes may constitute medical malpractice if they result from negligence.

5. Drug Dosage Errors 

Incorrect drug dosages, including overdoses or drugs with dangerous interactions, can have serious consequences. If a patient develops ARDS due to medication errors made by a healthcare provider, it may give rise to a medical malpractice claim.

6. Using Excessive Force During Delivery

Childbirth should be a joyous occasion, but complications can arise. Excessive force during delivery, such as when forceps or other assistive devices are used, can cause chest or head trauma, potentially leading to ARDS. If such complications result from the improper use of forceps or excessive force during childbirth, it may be considered medical malpractice.

Case Illustration: NKC Hospitals, Inc. v. Anthony

One illuminating case that underscores how medical negligence can lead to ARDS is NKC Hospitals, Inc. v. Anthony, 849 S.W.2d 564 (Ky. Ct. App. 1993). Although this case occurred in Kentucky, its implications resonate in the broader context of medical malpractice.

In this tragic case, a pregnant patient was admitted to the hospital complaining of severe abdominal pain. Despite her ongoing complaints and deteriorating condition, the attending physician failed to conduct a thorough examination. Instead, the physician attributed her pain to her pregnancy and prematurely discharged her. Subsequently, the patient’s condition worsened, leading to her diagnosis of acute appendicitis. Tragically, she developed ARDS due to the doctor’s initial failure to diagnose and treat appendicitis promptly, which led to delayed treatment and, ultimately, her death.

The court ruled in favor of the patient’s estate, affirming the jury’s verdict that both the hospital and the treating physician were liable for medical malpractice, resulting in the patient’s untimely demise.

Proving Medical Negligence in ARDS Cases

If you believe that you or someone you love developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome due to the negligence of a medical professional or healthcare entity, contacting a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer is a must. They will review your case to see not only if you have a case but if it can be proven. Ultimately, the burden of proof rests with plaintiff. Here is what is required to prove medical negligence:

Doctor-Patient Relationship

At the heart of any medical malpractice claim is the existence of a documented doctor-patient relationship. This relationship signifies that the patient sought medical care, and the healthcare provider agreed to provide that care. In ARDS cases, it is vital to establish this foundational connection to pursue legal action.

Medical Standard of Care

Central to medical malpractice claims is the concept of the “standard of care.” This standard delineates the level of care expected from a reasonably competent healthcare provider in the same medical field and geographical area when faced with similar circumstances. In ARDS cases, this means that the care provided to the patient must align with what another qualified medical professional would have administered under similar conditions.

Departure from Standard of Care

To substantiate a medical malpractice claim, it is imperative to demonstrate that the healthcare provider’s actions or omissions deviated from the established standard of care. This departure signifies negligence, as it indicates that the care provided fell below the expected level of competence.


The linchpin of any medical malpractice claim is causation. In ARDS cases, it is crucial to establish a direct and unambiguous link between the healthcare provider’s negligent conduct and the subsequent development of ARDS, along with any additional injuries or harm suffered by the patient. This causal connection underpins the claim’s validity.


For a medical malpractice claim to proceed, the patient and/or their family must have suffered tangible damages as a result of the healthcare provider’s negligence. These damages encompass various aspects, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, psychological harm, disability, and more, depending on the specifics of the case.

Pennsylvania Law and the Certificate of Merit Requirement

Under Pennsylvania law, medical malpractice plaintiffs are obliged to submit a “certificate of merit” within 60 days of initiating a medical malpractice lawsuit. This certificate serves as a testament to the case’s scrutiny by a qualified medical expert. This expert must possess the expertise to offer professional opinions on critical aspects, including the medical standard of care, any deviations from it, and how these deviations directly contributed to the patient’s injuries. Essentially, the certificate of merit serves as an initial litmus test, ensuring that the case has substantial merit before proceeding further.

Compensation in ARDS Malpractice Claims

While pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit does not guarantee a predetermined outcome, it does provide a legal avenue for victims of medical negligence to seek various forms of compensation in ARDS cases:

Medical Expenses

Medical malpractice claims typically seek coverage for the considerable costs associated with treating ARDS and its subsequent complications. This can encompass expenses related to hospitalization, surgical procedures, medication, rehabilitation, and any ongoing medical care required due to the lasting impact of ARDS.

Lost Wages

Compensation for both past and future lost earnings becomes a critical component, especially if the patient’s ability to work has been compromised due to ARDS-related impairments. This compensation aims to address the economic hardships resulting from the inability to pursue gainful employment.

Psychological Harm

As mentioned earlier, beyond physical suffering, ARDS can take a toll on a patient’s mental well-being. Psychological harm damages recognize the psychological trauma endured by the patient as they grapple with the effects of ARDS and its aftermath.

Pain and Suffering

Damages for the physical and emotional anguish endured by the victim constitute a fundamental aspect of medical malpractice claims. ARDS can cause immense physical pain and emotional distress, and compensation seeks to acknowledge and alleviate these hardships.


For individuals facing long-term or permanent disability as a consequence of ARDS, compensation may encompass the financial support required to adapt to and navigate life with a disability. This can include home modifications, assistive devices, and ongoing care.

Loss of Consortium

In wrongful death cases, the surviving family members may seek damages for the profound loss of companionship and guidance resulting from the victim’s passing. These damages recognize the intangible yet invaluable aspects of a family bond.

Punitive Damages

While rare, punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the defendant’s actions are deemed particularly egregious. These damages are not intended to compensate the plaintiff but rather to punish the defendant for exceptionally reckless or wrongful conduct.

Funeral and Burial Costs

In wrongful death cases, compensation extends to the practical aspects of laying a loved one to rest. Damages can cover the expenses associated with the deceased’s funeral and burial, providing financial relief to the grieving family.

Contact the Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Raynes & Lawn

ARDS is a devastating medical condition that can be triggered by various factors, including medical negligence. When entrusted healthcare providers fail to meet the established standard of care, their actions or omissions can lead to the development of ARDS, causing profound harm to patients and their families. While medical malpractice claims offer a means of seeking compensation for the damages suffered, these cases are complex and require a rigorous presentation of evidence.

If you or a loved one has developed ARDS due to suspected medical negligence, it’s imperative to seek guidance from experienced medical malpractice attorneys like those at Raynes & Lawn. With over 50 years of experience, the Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Raynes & Lawn possess the knowledge and resources to navigate your case. Contact us today by calling 1-800-535-1797 or by filling out the contact form. Your path to justice begins here.

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