In its decision filed on November 13, 2015, the Supreme Court of Alabama (“Alabama Supreme Court”) overturned a verdict in favor of a husband and wife in their Alabama medical malpractice case, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to provide necessary expert testimony regarding the standard of care applicable to two nurses employed by the defendant hospital.
The Alabama Supreme Court stated, “the [plaintiffs] did not present expert testimony to establish a breach of the applicable standard of care. Additionally, this was not a case where the want of skill or lack of care was so apparent as to be understood by a layperson and required only common knowledge and experience to understand. Therefore, the trial court erred when it denied [the defendant hospital’s] motions for a judgment as a matter of law as to [the husband’s] medical-malpractice claim.”
The Underlying Facts
On September 8, 2010, the husband had a lumbar laminectomy performed by a neurosurgeon/neurologist at the defendant hospital and he was released from the hospital on September 10, 2010. During the evening on September 11, 2010, the husband was home in bed when he rolled over, sat up on the side of the bed, and suddenly had excruciating pain up and down his lower back and legs. His legs felt like they were on fire and his feet felt like somebody was sticking him with pins and needles.
The wife called the surgeon that evening and had her husband transferred by ambulance back to the defendant hospital. The ER physician documented that the husband had lost sensation, primarily in his left foot; that he was not able to wiggle his ankles; that the husband said he could not wiggle his toes; and, that sensation was nearly absent in his feet; however, he was able to lift both legs off the gurney individually; he was continent; and, his distal pulses were normal. A CT scan showed a small hematoma but no obvious acute change.
Subsequently, the husband suffered damage to the cauda equina as the result of the compression caused by the hematoma, which the plaintiffs alleged in their Alabama medical malpractice lawsuit would have been avoided had the two nurses taking care of the husband once he was admitted to the defendant hospital notified the surgeon sooner about the husband’s (changed) condition, which would have resulted in earlier surgical intervention.
The two nurses testified during the Alabama medical malpractice trial that the standard of care required them to comply with the doctor’s orders and to notify the surgeon if there was any change in the husband’s condition (the admitting physician’s orders stated that the surgeon should be called only if there were changes in condition, problems, or questions, or for other orders), including notifying the doctor of the husband’s inability to move his legs and incontinence if that had been a change in his condition.
One of the nurses testified that before she became responsible for the husband’s care, she received a call from the ER nurse, notifying her that the husband was a two-day postoperative patient who had had back surgery, that he was incontinent, that he was going to be on 23-hour observation, that he would have nothing by mouth (he was going to have surgery), that he could not move his legs, and that he arrived at the ER complaining that he could not move his legs.
The nurse further testified that consistent with the call that she had received from the ER nurse, as well as her initial assessment of the husband, there was no change in the husband’s condition from the time she initially was responsible for his care until the end of her shift.
The trial judge held that sufficient evidence existed from which a reasonable jury could find that both nurses had breached the standard of care, by disbelieving that the nurse had received a call from the ER nurse and thus finding that there had been a change in the husband’s condition that the standard of care required her to report to the surgeon.
The Alabama Supreme Court stated that the plaintiffs had not presented any evidence to dispute the nurse’s testimony that she had received a report from the ER nurse regarding the husband, and the nurses had testified that the standard of care applicable to them did not require them to document when they received a report from another nurse (plus, there was some undisputed evidence before the jury that established that an ER nurse had called a report to the nurse).
The Alabama Supreme Court held that because there was no expert testimony that established that either nurse breached the applicable standard of care, the trial court erred in denying the defendant hospital’s motions for judgment as a matter of law.
Source Brookwood Health Services, Inc. d/b/a Brookwood Medical Center v. Borden, et al., No. 1131284.
If you or a family member may have suffered injury or other substantial harm as a result of medical negligence in a hospital in Alabama or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with an Alabama medical malpractice attorney (or a medical malpractice attorney in your state) who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.