December 25, 2012

On the night of May 11, 2000, an insulin-dependent diabetic patient was admitted into a Louisiana hospital due to abdominal pain, back pain, and vomiting leading to his dehydration. His admitting physician diagnosed him with diabetic ketoacidosis (a condition that occurs in diabetics when the body cannot use sugar (glucose) as a fuel source because there is no insulin or not enough insulin and body fat is used for fuel instead). The physician’s plan was to treat the patient’s diabetic ketoacidosis with gentle hydration and management of blood sugars through insulin therapy.

At approximately 9:00 a.m. on the morning of May 12, 2000, the physician determined that the patient’s condition was improving and he continued to prescribe general hydration, antibiotics, and management of blood sugars. At 7:00 p.m. on May 12, 2000, the patient’s care was assumed by a nurse who was not employed by the hospital but rather was working at the hospital pursuant to a contract between the hospital and a nursing agency. When the agency nurse first visited the patient, the patient’s wife advised her that her husband’s legs were numb and that his leg had flopped out of the bed. The agency nurse responded by saying that it was due to the patient’s fever. She did not report the change in the patient’s condition to the charge nurse or to a physician.

The agency nurse conducted a head-to-toe assessment of the patient at approximately 8:15 p.m. on May 12, 2000, at which time she determined that he had a firm abdomen and weak extremity strength but did not record if the weakness was equal or unequal but did note that she was “unable to assess” the patient’s mobility. Again, the agency nurse failed to report this change in condition to the charge nurse or to a physician.

At approximately 3:40 a.m. on May 13, 2000, the patient was unable to move his legs at all. The nurse’s notes indicated that he had not eliminated since 1:30 p.m. the previous day. The agency nurse inserted a Foley catheter that accumulated a significant amount of dark brown urine. The agency nurse finally advised the charge nurse of the change in the patient’s condition, which the charge nurse promptly told to one of the resident doctors. However, by that time the patient was already a paraplegic with little chance of recovery.

An MRI was ordered and showed an epidural abscess at the T-5 to T-7 level. A neurosurgeon was called in to perform emergency spinal surgery but the patient was nonetheless rendered a paraplegic below his mid-thoracic region. The patient died on August 18, 2008 due to complications from his paraplegia.

The patient’s surviving wife filed a medical malpractice claim against the hospital, the agency nurse, the nursing agency, and others, alleging wrongful death and a survival action. The medical malpractice claims went to trial in March, 2011. After trial, the court awarded damages in the amount of $900,000 in the survival action, $150,000 for wrongful death, $126,105.14 for medical expenses, $178,233.50 for lost wages, and $4,239.00 for funeral and burial expenses. The medical malpractice defendant filed an appeal, alleging many errors committed at trial, which was decided in favor of the medical malpractice plaintiff in a written decision filed on December 5, 2012.

Source:  John Johnson, et al. versus Harriet Fleming Ray and Nursefinders, Inc., Court of Appeal Fourth Circuit State of Louisiana, No. 2012-CA-0006.

If you were injured as a result of a nurse’s negligence, you should seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney who may agree to investigate your possible nursing medical malpractice claim for you and file a nurse malpractice claim on your behalf, if appropriate.

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