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Hospital technicians cause client's paraplegia ($850,000 settlement)

Client had recently retired from a blue collar job because he had structural vulnerability in his spine due to severe osteoporosis and severe ankylosing spondylitis which caused his spine to degenerate. These two diagnoses had caused client’s spine to become brittle and prone to fracture. They had also caused client’s spine to degenerate such that he had developed a massive humpback. Client experienced severe mid-back pain during a coughing spell and sought treatment. Client was hospitalized and a neurologist ordered cervical x-rays. The radiology technicians who performed the cervical x-rays while client lay on a radiology table experienced difficulty obtaining cervical images. The technicians apparently decided to attempt to straighten client’s spine with one technician pushing on client’s shoulders and the other technician pushing on client’s legs in a misguided attempt to obtain better cervical images. (It appears that the radiology technicians did not realize that client had a humpback condition and was vulnerable to injury.) This levering pressure resulted in client sustaining a displaced, through and through fracture in his thoracic spine resulting in paraplegia.

Dempsey and Kingsland action

We obtained client’s hospital chart which confirmed that client had undergone cervical x-rays and that client’s paralysis soon followed his visit to the hospital’s radiology suite. Client’s chart failed to provide any information or explanation as to how his spine had been fractured such that he was rendered paraplegic. We filed suit against the two radiology technicians and the hospital and we deposed all hospital employees including the two radiology technicians. All emphatically denied any knowledge of 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 client’s sentinel event. We also cited an entry from the diary of client’s wife along with her testimony. Client’s wife was outside the radiology suite when 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 action of the radiology techs had caused client’s displaced spinal fracture. Our investigation revealed a weakness in the case. A CT scan performed before the incident involving the radiology technicians revealed a fracture (apparently caused by client’s coughing spell). The fracture became displaced at the point when the technicians attempted to straighten client’s spine.

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