Severe stage IV hospital-acquired pressure ulcers in spinal cord injury patient - potential claim (New York)?
Patient's initial admission into ICU for spinal cord trauma and spine surgery (resulting in paraplegia), healthy young individual, no prior health issues. Stage 2 pressure ulcers form within 14 days in trauma unit. Rapid deterioration to stage IV with MRSA and bone infection. Hospital stay prolonged, rehabilitation delayed due to pressure wounds. Doctors talk of potential plastic surgery in future, wounds may never completely heal.
A legal professional I spoke to says "pain and suffering" may not work in this claim because patient cannot "feel pain" due to paralysis. Also states if wounds heal, there may be no damages, may be a tough case to argue.
The facility obviously did not follow protocol resulting in harm to the patient, whether they can "feel" the pain or not.
With all due respect to the legal professional that you spoke with, he/she should have told you to contact someone who litigates these cases. Fortunately, you did not accept their statement as gospel.
The New York State Department of Health has issued a bulletin, which states in no uncertain terms that decubutis ulcers are in virtually every case, AVOIDABLE. Stage 4 ulcers are in most circumstances prima facie evidence of neglect and must be reported to the State for investigation.
Nursing homes and hospitals have to be extremely vigilant to prevent decubuti in paraplegics and quadroplegics. Such patients needs to be turned every hour or two and/or sleep on auto inflating and deflating air mattress. The patients must be kept hydrated. Their sheets must be kept smooth and free of wrinkles. The job is difficult, but not impossible. Unless this is a really unusual case, the hospital will settle.
The medical records need to be obtained immediately, and reviewed to see if the hospital failed to follow appropriate procedure. The young woman suffered MRSA and bone infection as a result of the decubiti, and her healing and health has been compromised. OF course she has a claim (as a practical matter by the time a decubitis ulcer reaches Stage 4, there isn't much pain because the nerves are all dead.)
I settled one of these cases last year, and am currently handling several others. I have great experts already on board. If the young woman was being treated in a Municipal Hospital, she has a very limited time to file a notice of claim. If you'd like to discuss, please feel free to call.
Obviously there are limitations on pain and suffering but the fact that there appears to be liability coupled with the fact that there are (presumably) psychological damages and the potential for surgery may make this worth pursuing.
Contact local medical malpractice attorneys and discuss your case in detail and learn the full scope of your rights. You can search Avvo.com for NY, NY medical malpractice attorneys.
I'm sorry to hear about your injuries as they sound severe and most unpleasant (that's an understatement).
It's unclear what caused the spinal cord trauma prior to your admission to ICU. It's also unclear whether the trauma created the probability of paraplegia or whether the surgery was performed negligently and thus caused the parapligia.
The ulcers may have been caused by malpractice in the hospital setting.
Regarding MRSA infection, there are very important factors to consider before you can know how to proceed with this aspect of any medical malpractice claim you may make against the hospital. For instance, do you know if you were ever colonized with MRSA prior to being admitted to ICU for the spine injury? Do you know if the hospital took a nose swab when you were admitted to the hospital prior to being diagnosed with a MRSA infection? These are key details that medical malpractice defense attorneys will ferret out when reviewing your medical records.
Your medical records should be obtained so that you can review your case with a medical malpractice attorney. The question in medical malpractice cases is whether the standard of care was breached and if so, was the defendent the cause of your injuries? Medical expert testimony will be needed to prove your case.
Regarding pain and suffering, I cannot speak for NY law as I'm only licensed in CA, but this form of general damages should include more than physical pain to your body that you can sense. There should be some basis for the inconvenience and trouble this debilitating condition will have on your life. Whether your wounds heal well (and I certainly hope they do!) will not be the sole determining factor of the merit of your case. If medical malpractice caused your injuries, you are entitled to compensation. The extent of injury that you sustained, including future medical care that may be needed will impact the amount of compensation that you may receive.
I hope you feel better and the best thing you can do right now is to continue treating according the recommendations of your health care providers and contact medical malpractice attorneys in your area.
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Indeed, Attorney Gold is spot on with respect to "pressure ulcers" -- there is no excuse. Also, don't forget about the "suffering" part of damages for "pain and suffering", just because someone cannot feel physical pain at or near the site of an injury doesn't mean that person isn't suffering! MRSA itself isn't something that one can always avoid while in hospital, but it isn't the type of bacteria that is relevant here. Rather, it is the fact that osteomyelitis (bone infection) is extremely difficult to eradicate, it can cause permanent damage, and in this case it was completely avoidable, i.e. no pressure sores=no bone infection. Speak with a local attorney as soon as possible. You can find attorneys in your area by searching among the profiles here on AVVO. Good luck!
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