In medical malpractice lawsuits, documentation is key in proving both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s cases. A jury is much more likely to believe what is documented in the chart than testimony that is generally provided several years after the alleged medical malpractice took place. However, when something is not documented in the chart, then it is up to both parties to convince the jury that their version of the events is true.
In the Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit of Dolores Murray v. Diane Price-Gordon, R.N., 06 L 9083, the plaintiff was unable to convince the jury that the defendant nurse had acted negligently. Instead, the jury sided with the defendant and her version of the events despite the lack of support provided by the medical chart.
In Murray, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant nurse’s failure to monitor the plaintiff’s vital signs led to her permanent upper extremity paralysis. However, the nurse maintained that she had properly monitored and observed the plaintiff and that her actions were not responsible for the plaintiff’s paralysis. While the plaintiff relied more on the lack of documentation in the medical chart, the defendant relied more heavily on medical experts’ testimony to prove her case.
Dolores Murray had undergone a cervical laminectomy at the University of Illinois Medical Center in order to treat her long-standing cervical stenosis, i.e. spinal cord compression in the nerve roots. According to all reports, the surgery was a success, but Murray remained in the hospital for further monitoring and care as a precautionary measure.
The defendant nurse, Diana Price-Gordon, was responsible for monitoring Murray’s care during the day shift. According to the physician orders, the nursing staff was to check Murray’s neurological and vital signs every four hours. Price-Gordon performed an initial assessment of Murray’s vital and neurological signs at 8 a.m., which was in line with the standard procedure. The next note was at 10:30 a.m., in which Price-Gordon noted that Murray was sitting up in a chair.
And while a physical therapist noted that Murray had elevated blood pressure at an undocumented time, Price-Gordon made no more notes regarding Murray’s condition for the remainder of her shift. And while Price-Gordon did administer an antihypertensive medication in order to bring down Murray’s blood pressure at 3:14 p.m., she failed to document Murray’s vital signs prior to administering the medication.
Price-Gordon’s shift ended at 3:30 p.m. and a new nurse took over the responsibility for Murray. At 4:30 p.m., the chart shows that the new nurse found Murray in her chair, unresponsive and with profoundly low blood pressure. At the time Murray was unable to move her hands or arms. She was later diagnosed with central spinal cord syndrome and continues to have paralysis of both her upper extremities.
At trial, both parties agreed that the central spinal cord syndrome was likely caused by the episode of low blood pressure; however, the parties disagree as to who was to blame for Murray’s low blood pressure. The plaintiff contended that Price-Gordon chose not to properly monitor Murray according to the physician’s orders and chose not to reassess Murray after giving the blood pressure lowering medicine.
At the medical malpractice trial, there was conflicting testimony as to the extent that Price-Gordon monitored Murray. Murray’s family members testified that they noted Murray becoming very lethargic over the course of the afternoon and was non-responsive. However, when they relayed this information to Price-Gordon, they testified that she stated that Murray had received too much morphine. Furthermore, they relayed that Nurse Price-Gordon told them she was going off duty, but would inform the nurse taking over for the next shift.
However, Price-Gordon denied that this interchange ever occurred. Price-Gordon testified that if she had found Murray non-responsive that she would have immediately called for emergency assistance. In addition, Price-Gordon maintained that she did monitor Murray every four hours as required by the orders, but that it was not required that she re-check Murray’s vital signs at noon because that was around the same time the physical therapist charted Murray’s vital signs. In addition, the defense experts noted that nurses are not required to check a patient’s blood pressure prior to giving medication aimed at lowering blood pressure.
Likewise, the defendant’s medical experts argued that the event that led to Murray’s permanent paralysis could not have occurred any more than ten minutes prior to Murray being found unresponsive by the 2nd shift nurse. The experts testified that if the hypotensive event had occurred more than ten minutes prior to 4:30 p.m., then Murray would have been left with brain damage. As it was, Murray did not suffer any brain damage; her injuries were limited to the spinal cord.
At the close of the Illinois medical malpractice trial, the plaintiff asked the jury to return a $9.3 million verdict. However, after deliberating for only one hour, the jury instead returned a verdict in favor of Nurse Price-Gordon. The defendants had presumably anticipated this outcome as they had made no offer to settle either prior to or during the trial.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice matters for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Willowbrook, Glenview, Harwood Heights, Palos Heights, Buffalo Grove, and Matteson.
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