Legal Background

The case went to a jury trial. At trial, the plaintiff’s attorney introduced a “day in the life of” video showing how difficult Mr G’s life had become. Once an avid swimmer and coach for his son’s swim team, Mr G now feared wet surfaces due to the potential for falling and could not return to swimming. He was a sympathetic plaintiff in the eyes of the jury.

The plaintiff’s attorneys brought in medical experts who testified that 1 in 3 knee dislocations result in an injury to the popliteal artery; if the injury is not identified within a 6- to 8-hour window, the leg will most likely require amputation. The attorneys pointed out that Ms N had included knee dislocation in her differential diagnosis, but she did not raise the issue when the patient was being diagnosed by Dr D. They argued that Ms N had failed her client by not advocating for him with the physician.

The defense tried to argue that the knee dislocation had been ruled out by the radiographs, but this was rebutted by the plaintiff’s expert who testified that radiographs alone cannot rule out a dislocation and that a vascular assessment should have been conducted.

After 1 day of deliberations, the jury came back with a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded him $5.2 million.

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Protecting Yourself

The required elements of a medical malpractice case include the following: a duty owed to the patient (this exists in any clinician/patient relationship); a breach of the duty (a clinician failing to meet the standard of care); damages (physical or emotional); and causation (the damages were caused by the breach of the duty). In this case, Ms N breached her duty to Mr G by failing to question Dr D’s diagnosis and by failing to raise the possibility of a knee dislocation.

Regardless of what your supervisor’s personality is like, whether you may get on someone’s “bad” side, or whether it is “unpopular” to challenge a supervisor, you have a duty to your patients to advocate on their behalf. Had Ms N done so, she might have saved her patient’s leg.

Ms Latner, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, NY.