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Hospital Technicians Cause Displacement of Spinal Fracture Resulting in Paraplegia - $850,000 Settlement

Our client had recently retired from a blue collar job due to structural vulnerability in his spine caused by severe osteoporosis and severe ankylosing spondylitis. These diagnoses had caused the client’s spine to become brittle and prone to fracture and to degenerate such that he had developed a massive humpback. He suddenly experienced severe mid-back pain during a coughing spell and sought treatment.

Following the coughing spell and the onset of his severe pain, our client was hospitalized and a neurologist ordered cervical x-rays. The radiology technicians who performed the cervical x-rays experienced difficulty obtaining cervical images as the client lay on a radiology table. The technicians evidently attempted to straighten the client’s spine, with one technician pushing on the client’s shoulders and the other technician pushing on the client’s legs in a misguided attempt to obtain better cervical images. (It appears that the technicians did not realize that client had a humpback condition and was vulnerable to injury). This levering pressure resulted in our client sustaining a displaced, through and through fracture in his thoracic spine resulting in paraplegia.

In preparing the case, we obtained our client’s hospital chart which confirmed that client had undergone cervical x-rays and that the client’s paralysis soon followed his visit to the hospital’s radiology suite. Of note, the chart failed to provide any information or explanation as to how his spine injury occurred that rendered him paraplegic. We filed suit against the two radiology technicians and the hospital, and we deposed all hospital employees including the two radiology technicians. The defendant radiology technicians and everyone connected with the defendant hospital emphatically denied any knowledge about the client’s injury.

The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals requires that hospitals prepare incident reports for all sentinel events. (A sentinel event is one in which a patient experiences a substantial, unexpected change in health status during hospitalization). The hospital became motivated to settle the case when we cited the failure of the hospital to prepare an incident report on the client’s sentinel event. We also cited an entry from a contemporaneously-written diary entry prepared by the client’s wife along with her deposition testimony. Our client’s wife was seated just outside the radiology suite when the client sustained his spinal injury. She did not see the radiology technicians’ actions, but she had heard her husband shouting: “No, stop,” and heard him scream in pain. She recorded this description of events in her diary.

We developed an animation to show how the pushing by the radiology techs had caused the displaced spinal fracture. Our investigation revealed a weakness in the case that diminished its value. A CT scan performed before the incident involving the radiology technicians revealed the presence of a fracture (apparently caused by client’s coughing spell). The fracture became displaced at the point when the technicians exerted the force on the client’s body.

The case settled for $850,000 with the agreement that the hospital’s identity would remain confidential.