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Failure to Diagnose Brain Bleeding Leaves Woman Quadriplegic

An Oregon couple has filed a lawsuit against a Portland-area hospital operated by the Kaiser Foundation after a woman was allegedly sent home with a prescription painkiller instead of being diagnosed with a catastrophic brain injury. They accuse the hospital and the responsible physicians of failing to perform appropriate tests that would have discovered her epidural hematoma before it left her arms and legs paralyzed.

According to the lawsuit, the woman was brought to the hospital on the afternoon of May 11, 2013. She had no known history of traumatic injury, yet she complained of severe neck pain, combined with tingling and numbness in her limbs. Instead of performing imaging studies, the doctors apparently assumed she had strained her neck. They sent her home with Vicodin.

The Vicodin didn’t help. Around 5 p.m. she called a nurse advice line and said the numbness and pain seemed to be getting worse. After another 20 minutes, she called back to say she had lost the use of her arms and legs. An ambulance brought her back to the hospital.

By that time, unfortunately, the epidural hematoma had hemorrhaged, causing blood to build up between the skull and the membrane surrounding the brain. On her return visit, she was diagnosed with quadriplegia caused by the previously undiagnosed epidural hematoma, the lawsuit says.

The couple believes that a complete neurological evaluation was called for on the first visit, in light of her symptoms and the absence of a traumatic event that could have caused them. If a full neurological exam, including medical imaging had been done, or even if her symptoms had been carefully documented, the couple says, the epidural hematoma would have been diagnosed in time.

Instead, the doctor and hospital failed in its duty to “rule out the worst potential cause” before assuming she had strained her cervical vertebrae and releasing her from observation. The medical team’s failure to consider a possible neurological cause for her symptoms left her permanently paralyzed, they allege. They are seeking $12 million in compensation for this life-altering medical mistake.

A diagnostic error can take away a patient’s chance for a full recovery — or bring devastating changes to the victim’s life. When a diagnosis is missed because doctors didn’t live up to the basic standards of medical care, it’s malpractice — and it’s tragic.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Kaiser Misdiagnosis Led to Paralysis, Woman Says,” Barbara Wallace, Dec. 30, 2013