On March 10, 2015, in a conservative Maryland jurisdiction (Anne Arundel County, where Maryland’s capital, Annapolis, is located), a Maryland medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in the amount of $2,535,869 in favor of the now 23-year-old female plaintiff.
The plaintiff was 19 years old when she went to a local hospital’s emergency department, complaining of severe lower back pain and pelvic numbness. Despite her symptoms and a history of bulging disks in her back, the nurse practitioner who examined the young woman in the emergency department failed to arrange for an MRI or neurosurgical consultation before discharging the woman to home.
The treating nurse practitioner denied during the Maryland medical malpractice trial that the woman had complained of pelvic numbness while in the emergency department. Despite the nurse practitioner’s denial that the plaintiff complained of pelvic numbness, a nurse in the emergency department documented complaints of pelvic numbness and the triage nurse in the emergency department documented in the medical records that the plaintiff had numbness in her hips and legs.
The plaintiff returned to the same hospital emergency department two days later, with complaints of urinary retention and complete loss of rectal tone (she also advised hospital personnel during that visit that she had had numbness for the past two days).
The plaintiff was diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome, which is a severe neurological condition that requires immediate medical attention in order to avoid serious and permanent neurological injury, including incontinence and permanent paralysis.
What Is Cauda Equina Syndrome?
The collection of nerves at the end of the spinal cord is known as the cauda equina, due to its resemblance in appearance to the tail of a horse (the spinal cord ends at the upper part of the lumbar spine; the individual nerve roots at the end of the spinal cord continue along in the spinal cord and provide sensory and motor function to the bladder and legs). If the nerve roots of the cauda equina are compressed, motor and sensory function are disrupted to the bladder and the lower extremities. Cauda equina syndrome is considered a medical emergency.
The plaintiff in the Maryland medical malpractice case continues to suffer nerve pain and sexual dysfunction as a result of the late diagnosis and treatment of her cauda equina syndrome. She also suffers some continuing symptoms of permanent mild weakness in her foot, difficulty voiding, and chronic constipation.
The defense argued that the diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome cannot be made until there is some evidence of bowel or bladder dysfunction, which the Maryland medical malpractice jury rejected.
The defendants had not made a settlement offer before trial. The $2 million awarded for noneconomic damages will be reduced pursuant to Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases that was in effect as of the date of the medical negligence. The balance of the jury’s verdict was for past and future medical expenses.
The Maryland medical malpractice case is captioned Donner v. Anne Arundel Medical Center, Inc., et al., Case No. 02-C-13-181797, Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
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