On September 19, 2011, a Cook County jury returned a defense verdict for a Registered Nurse represented by DBMS.
The plaintiff, a 47-year old female manager at Illinois Bell with two adult daughters, underwent a cervical laminectomy at University of Illinois Medical Center on August 27, 2004 for cervical stenosis. No complications were noted during the surgery.
The defendant nurse cared for the patient on the day shift on post-operative day one, August 28, 2004. The physician orders required vital signs and neurological signs every four hours. The defendant performed an initial nursing assessment with vital signs and neurological signs at 8:00 a.m. The defendant also charted that the patient was sitting in a chair at 10:30 a.m. pursuant to physician orders. The defendant did not take vital signs at noon or at any time thereafter. The defendant did not make any further narrative notes in the medical record during her shift, which ended at 3:30 p.m.
A physical therapist took orthostatic vital signs but no time was noted in the record. The physical therapist noted that the blood pressure was elevated and deferred ambulation. The defendant took a telephone order from a physician and administered anti-hypertensive medication at 3:14 p.m. The defendant's shift ended at 3:30 p.m.
At 4:30 p.m., the nurse on the evening shift found the patient non-responsive in a chair with profound hypotension (low blood pressure). Subsequently, the patient was unable to use her arms or hands and was diagnosed with central spinal cord syndrome. It was undisputed that the central spinal cord syndrome most likely resulted from the hypotensive episode, which caused ischemia to the spinal cord causing permanent injury.
The plaintiff claimed that the defendant failed to monitor the plaintiff, including by failing to take vital signs and neurological signs every four hours as ordered by the physician and prior to administering anti-hypertensive medication. Further, the plaintiff alleged the defendant failed to reassess the plaintiff after giving the medication.
The plaintiff testified that once she was placed by the nurse in the chair in the morning, the nurse never returned until late that afternoon. Plaintiff's family members testified that when they visited the plaintiff that afternoon, she became very lethargic and non-responsive, and when they called the defendant nurse to the room, she stated that the patient must have had too much morphine and that she was going off duty but would let the nurse on the next shift know.
The defense denied this interaction ever took place and the nurse testified that if she had found the patient non-responsive she would have immediately called for emergency assistance. The defense also argued that the nurse monitored the patient at least every hour during her shift within the standard of care and that it was not necessary for the nurse to personally take vital signs at noon where they had been done by the physical therapist at about that time. Furthermore, the standard of care did not require taking a blood pressure prior to administering the antihypertensive medication that afternoon.
The defense argued the plaintiff was not injured during the defendant's shift and the hypotensive event could not have occurred more than ten minutes before the plaintiff was found in the chair at 4:30 P.M. or she would have had permanent brain damage from lack of perfusion to the brain as well as to the spinal cord. The defense also argued that many of the plaintiff's claimed injuries were caused by her pre-existing neurological and degenerative spine conditions.
In closing argument, the plaintiff asked the jury to award approximately $9.3 million. The jury deliberated for one hour over lunch and returned a verdict for the defendant.