Multi-million-dollar medical malpractice lawsuit awards are generally associated with mishaps that occur in hospitals or surgery centers. In an unusual event, an urgent care facility treated a patient with such extreme negligence that a jury found the center guilty of medical malpractice.
The tragedy began when an Idaho man experienced back pain at work while lifting heavy material. He called his wife, who drove him to an urgent care facility owned by the hospital across the street. The hospital emergency room was only a few yards away from the urgent care center.
The standard protocol for back injury treatment
When a patient presents with back pain, medical protocols in facilities across the country dictate extreme caution. Even though the man walked unassisted into the urgent care facility, the location of his pain and the mechanism of injury should have alerted the medical staff to use spinal immobilization. Any damage to the back requires taking precautions to prevent further injury, particularly upon spinal cord impact. The general protocol followed by emergency responders or higher-level care facilities such as emergency clinics or hospitals is:
- Move the patient as little as possible; keep the person quiet and still.
- Avoid bending or twisting movements to the patient's head, neck or body.
- Apply a cervical collar or place rolled sheets snugly against each side of the neck.
- Manually hold the head and neck in place to keep spinal alignment.
- Do not attempt to move the patient into the correct position without help.
- Roll the patient in a synchronized motion while maintaining spinal alignment.
- Suspect a spinal cord injury if the patient loses sensation.
The danger of wrong assumptions
Because the man presented at the urgent care facility instead of the hospital emergency room across the street, the staff wrongly assumed his injury was not serious. The patient chose the urgent care facility over the hospital ER; therefore, they accepted the patient's diagnosis that he was not seriously hurt. In reality, the man chose the urgent care facility to save money. Once there, staff moved the man into awkward positions for various tests, X-rays and other procedures. He was told to walk under his own power down a hall for yet another X-ray. By this time, the man could no longer stand up for the X-ray. His legs were numb. Even so, the urgent care center medics continued to aggressively examine the patient without immobilization. Unknown to the staff, the man had suffered a herniated spinal disc at work.
Irrevocable consequences of bad decisions
Due to the urgent care staff's clumsy treatment, they finally sent their patient to the emergency room. He left the hospital in a wheelchair, paralyzed for life. Not surprisingly, the mistreated patient filed a lawsuit against the hospital, as the parent company of the urgent care center. At his 2018 medical malpractice trial, the jury awarded the man over 7.9 million dollars. Patients are wise to hold those accountable who injure them when the damage could have been avoided.