A jury deliberated four hours after a two-week trial in which a patient seen by Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Drexel Hill, Pa., blamed the hospital for treatments that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
The patient, a 53-year-old man at the time, visited the Delaware County Hospital emergency room in 2011, complaining of neck pain and tingling in one arm. He was initially treated by a cardiologist and admitted for an overnight stay. According to the complaint filed by his attorney, the patient worsened overnight. He developed a fever, found that he had trouble walking, and was unable to urinate.
Next to treat the man was an infectious disease specialist, who saw the patient the following day. A cervical epidural abscess in the man’s neck was suspected, so this physician ordered an MRI and brought in a neurologist. When the hospital’s radiologist examined the MRI results, however, he declared that there were no signs of an abscess or related problem. The radiologist’s conclusion, according to plaintiff’s counsel, was incorrect.
The man’s condition worsened. After the infectious disease specialist saw him later that day, he was sent to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where he underwent surgery to treat the abscess. That intervention was appropriate, but precious time had been lost. By the time that surgery had been accomplished, the patient was paralyzed in both arms and legs, and had lost bowel and bladder control, as well as sexual function.
The jury awarded the victim $9 million in past and future medical expenses, $2.3 million in noneconomic losses, and almost $500,000 in lost wages. The man’s spouse was also awarded $500,000 for loss of consortium. The result was one of the largest civil and malpractice awards in the county’s history, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.
Are radiologists spending enough time interpreting images submitted to them? A recent study by Sokolovskaya et al. published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology found that faster reporting did lead to increased errors. However, it is impossible to know whether more radiologist time would have improved the outcome for the plaintiff in this case.
Ann Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.