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Hospital Sued Under Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur When Patient Developed Compartment Syndrome While Hospitalized

April 30, 2014

Johnson & Bell Shareholders, Peggy Unger and Lynn M. Reid, secured a complete defense verdict for their hospital client following an 8-day trial in DuPage County.  The 49-year-old plaintiff sought damages of $3.4 million for lost function of his right arm.  Plaintiff alleged that he developed compartment syndrome because he laid on his arm for many hours without moving due to medication administered at the hospital which impaired his level of consciousness.  The treating orthopedic surgeon wrote in consult that the condition likely resulted from lying on the arm for a prolonged period of time.

Plaintiff was admitted to the psychiatric hospital with suicidal ideation and homicidal ideation and was being monitored every 15 minutes for safety. However, there was no documentation of any nursing assessment for an 8-hour period during the day.  In safety checks he was charted as “sleeping” for 8 hours.  Plaintiff presented expert testimony that the nurses were negligent in that they allowed the patient to sleep all day without assessing his status.  Plaintiff’s nursing expert opined vital signs should have been taken during the 8-hour time frame and that nursing assessments should have been performed.   Medical testimony established that any such interventions would have interrupted the developing condition.  The trial judge allowed the case to go to the jury under a theory of res ipsa loquitur given evidence that the hospital had control over the patient and evidence that the injury ordinarily does not occur absent negligence.  The defense presented testimony from two expert witnesses, a professor of nursing and noted psychiatrist with a Ph.D. in Neurobiology.  The defense theorized compartment syndrome developed due to the patient's prior cocaine use in conjunction with polysubstance abuse and Bipolar Disorder, each a risk factor for vascular disease.  The defense successfully defended the complete lack of charting by the nurses by persuading the jury there were routine interactions between the patient and the nurses which were not charted.

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