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$1.2M Verdict for Family of Woman Who Died After Hernia Operation
Evidence showed that poor nursing care at Pennsylvania Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, including failure to contact a physician as ordered when the patient's blood pressure dropped below 100 and the absence of documented nursing care for a 16.5 hour period after surgery, resulted in the death of a 55 year old woman following a routine hernia operation. At trial, medical records presented to the jury showed that after surgery, a resident examined the patient and noted in her chart that nurses should call a physician if the patient's blood pressure dropped below 100. The same records showed that later the same day, at 5:15 p.m., a nurse recorded a blood pressure of 90/60, but did not call a doctor. This was the last nursing note written in the chart for the patient until 9:45 the next morning, reflecting a gap in documented care of 16 and 1/2 hours. The 9:45 a.m. chart noted that the patient was "extremely sedated, requiring painful stimuli for arousal and with a blood pressure of 90/58."
Following the 9:45 a.m. note, the patient's morphine pump was stopped and she was transferred to the intensive care unit, where she died two and a half days later. Attorneys for the woman's family argued that the nurses violated the standard of care by not calling for a doctor when the patient's blood pressure dropped below 100. Although attorneys for the hospital disputed that the nurses' care was negligent, a nursing supervisor employed by the hospital testified that a doctor should have been called when the patient's blood pressure dropped below 100.
In addition to the allegations that the nurses were negligent for failing to call for a doctor, the plaintiff's attorneys argued that the patient was over-medicated with morphine. Evidence presented at trial showed that people with compromised livers, which this patient had because of a chronic alcoholism condition, process morphine 50% slower than patients with a healthy liver. Attorneys for the hospital essentially argued that the patient was caused by her alcoholism and related medical problems such as liver disease and high blood pressure.
A jury voted 10-2 to award the patient's family $1.2 million dollars, which was $900,000 more than the highest offer the hospital had made to settle the case prior to trial. The hospital has stated it will appeal the verdict.
From Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog posted 2008-02-10.