Dallas $10+ million verdict shows that Texas tort reform didn't make all emergency room cases impossible

In Texas there’s a prevailing sentiment that hospital emergency room (ER) medical malpractice cases are simply unwinnable. It’s not only the public that feels that way—I hear the same thing from many lawyers. That’s why many injured patients have a problem finding representation.

The reason for this involves a tort reform law that was enacted in Texas back in 2003. It creates a higher standard of proof for hospital emergency room cases called willful and wanton negligence. To be clear, this standard is tough and could mean that some cases simply can’t be effectively pursued in court. It doesn’t mean, though, that there’s no such thing as a viable ER case in Texas.

A recent jury verdict in Dallas County, Texas illustrates this fact.

It’s also an interesting case because the patient involved was a senior citizen, which is a class of Texans that the tort reform law severely disfavors. The plaintiff’s name is Jessie Adams.

Before talking about the facts of the case, I’ll jump to the conclusion. A Dallas County jury found Texas Health Presbyterian Flower Mound to be willfully and wantonly negligent and entered a verdict of $10.1 million in favor of Jessie.

Here’s what happened that led to the case.

Like many people her age, Jessie had chronic back pain.

She went to a local doctor for an epidural steroid injection (ESI) in her back for pain relief. While she was still at the doctor’s office for observation after the injection, she started losing feeling in her legs. Eventually, the doctor called an ambulance to take her to the hospital.

When she arrived at the Texas Health Presbyterian Flower Mound emergency room, ER physicians quickly evaluated Jessie. At the top of their differential diagnosis list was epidural hemorrhage.

Epidural hemorrhaging is a serious medical condition where there’s bleeding around the spinal cord. An epidural hemorrhage (or epidural bleeding) is a rare, but known complication of an epidural spinal injection. It can happen when the doctor accidentally nicks a blood vessel during a spinal injection procedure.

When an epidural hemorrhage develops, blood accumulates and can compress the spinal cord and cause permanent injury—unless the pressure is surgically relieved and the spinal cord is decompressed in a timely fashion.

One of Jessie’s ER physicians ordered a stat MRI.

An MRI is a diagnostic imaging scan that would allow the doctors to rule in or rule out an epidural hemorrhage as the cause of Jessie’s condition. In a hospital setting, the term “stat” means as soon as possible. The evidence didn’t suggest that “as soon as possible” was quick in this case, though.

When the hospital’s MRI tech received the order, no patient was being scanned in the MRI machine and it was available. The trial evidence showed that Jessie wasn’t quickly ushered to the MRI scanner, though. Instead, the MRI tech clocked out for the day over 35 minutes after receiving the stat order, without performing Jessie’s MRI scan.

Delay.

With that delay, precious time was lost. Jessie’s medical expert explained that patients can retain some use of the extremities if an epidural hemorrhage is decompressed promptly.

Eventually, another MRI tech came on duty and performed the scan. The evidence showed that the technologist felt that Jessie had an epidural hemorrhage but didn’t speak with the radiologist or ER physician about those suspicions.

More delay.

As a former hospital administrator, this caused me to reflect on the fact that The Joint Commission, a healthcare accrediting body, has found that communication errors are a major issue that adversely impacts patient care in hospitals.

By the time the MRI was interpreted and a decision for immediate surgery was made, the on-call surgery team was gone for the day. It took 2.5 hours for the whole team to return to the hospital.

Even more delay.

Jessie wasn’t taken to the operating room until 7.5 hours after her spinal injection. At that point, the surgery wasn’t successful in restoring her lost motor function. Jessie is paraplegic and will be unable to use her legs for the rest of her life.

One of the keys to finding justice in a Texas emergency room medical malpractice case is hiring a competent lawyer to handle the investigation and lawsuit. If you’ve been seriously injured in a Texas hospital, then contact a top-rated and experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session about your potential case.

Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.