Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (6)6 Jun 98

Quick Summary: The patient’s life took a tragic turn for the worse when the nurses broke both her legs transferring her from her bed to her wheelchair.

   The hospital contended the verdict of $1,250,000 in the patient’s favor was not supported by the evidence and was unjust.

   First, she experienced extreme pain during the transfer. She became nauseous and sweaty and blacked out. Then she was left unattended in the hall and later was found slumped in her wheelchair.

   She waited several hours for hospital personnel to discover her right leg was broken.

   She suffered until the next day before anyone at the hospital noticed that her left leg was also broken.

   Clearly this patient experienced extreme pain and anxiety during this time, especially in light of the fact that she entered the hospital to gain mobility and independence, not to lose it. COURT OF APPEALS OF TEXAS, 1998.

   The patient was seventy-one years old. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and had osteoporosis. She could stand with a walker, but she could not walk. She could sit for up to two hours and could ride in a car.

   She had had both her hips replaced. Her physician believed replacing both her knees would improve her mobility. He had her admitted to a rehab facility for physical therapy to improve her mobility prior to knee-replacement surgery. Over the next several days she was seen by the orthopedic surgeons. They decided she was not an acceptable candidate for knee replacement.

   She stayed at the rehab facility anyway. The orthopedists and her physician worked out a treatment plan to be followed in the rehab facility aimed at increasing her mobility short of restoring the ability to ambulate independently.

   Eleven days into her stay, however, both her legs were broken, each in two places, by the facility’s nurses while attempting to transfer the patient from her bed to a wheelchair. She ended up in full leg casts for two months. Afterward she could no longer stand even with a walker, could not sit for more than twenty minutes and essentially had to spend the rest of her life prone in bed.

   She sued the rehab facility for the nurses’ negligence. She also sued her physician for a consumer protection violation for misrepresenting that she was a good candidate for knee replacement. The physician paid a nominal $15,000 settlement. The case went to trial against the hospital, and the jury returned a verdict of $1,250,000, which the judge reduced to $1,235,000 to account for the $15,000 settlement from the physician. The Court of Appeals of Texas ruled the jury’s substantial verdict was just and proper. Rehabilitation Facility at Austin v. Cooper, 962 S.W. 2d 151 (Tex. App., 1998).