July 28, 2019

On Friday, July 12, 2019, after a five-day jury trial, a West Virginia medical malpractice jury deliberated for three and a half hours late into the night before determining that an emergency room physician assistant did not breach the standard of care when he attempted to surgically drain a drug addict’s abscess located in her groin that ended with the patient having an above the knee leg amputation at another hospital.

The patient had gone to the same hospital emergency room two days prior, complaining of pain in her groin caused by an abscess. She was treated and released by a different physician assistant, with a prescription for pain medication, and was advised to return to the emergency room if her condition worsened. The plaintiff testified during trial that she filled and used the entire prescribed medication, which did not relieve her pain. She testified that she then snorted heroin in an attempt to relieve the pain.

During her second visit to the emergency room, the plaintiff complained that her pain had increased and she requested treatment. The physician assistant (PA) assigned to the emergency room that day attempted to incise and drain (I and D) the abscess located in her groin but was only able to extract minimal pus. The PA then used hemostats in an attempt to obtain further drainage, which was unsuccessful. The PA testified during trial that after he placed the hemostats on the tray and turned back to the patient, he immediately saw pulsatile blood emanating from the area where he had performed the I and D.

Over the course of several hours, the bleeding was stopped and the patient was transferred to another hospital where a vascular surgeon performed surgery about eleven hours after the patient arrived. The vascular surgeon testified that he found three holes in three different arteries during the surgery. The vascular surgeon made a difficult decision: save the patient’s leg or save the patient’s life. The patient ended up havig her leg amputated high up on her leg. She is unable to have a prothesis.

There was evidence in the plaintiff’s medical records that she stated that she had recently broke off the tip of a needle in the area of her abscess. There was also a note in the records that she had recently used a needle in the abscess when using heroin. The medical records indicated that the patient was moving during the I and D procedure.

The plaintiff alleged that the PA breached the standard of care by performing the procedure that was beyond his competency by blindly using hemostats to dig deeep into an area replete with blood vessels, nerves, and other vital structures. The PA’s defense was that he did not go too deep and that the plaintiff’s underlying medical conditions that included a long history of drug use in the area of the procedure and her pre-existing MRSA that ravaged her blood vessels resulted in the unexpected loss of a limb.

The defense extensively cross-examined the plaintiff regarding her extensive drug use history, her recent substance abuse-related arrests and convictions, and other aspects of her sad life.

If you or a loved one suffered harm as a result of emergency room negligence in West Virginia or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a medical malpractice lawyer in West Virginia or in your state who may investigate your emergency room medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a emergency room malpractice case, if appropriate.

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