Informed Consent May Not Protect You in a Lawsuit

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

Disclosures

June 27, 2017

In This Article

Hospital Not to Blame in Patient's Possible Drug Death

Last month, a Texas jury decided that a hospital—formerly known as Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco—wasn't negligent in the death of a woman who entered the facility on October 5, 2011, complaining of severe lower back pain, as a story in the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.[2]

In its claim, the family of Sarah Gann, a resident of Corsicana, roughly an hour's drive from Waco, alleged that the hospital—now known as Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center—failed to adequately chart the patient's negative reaction to the opioid pain medication Dilaudid® when she was admitted into the emergency department (ED).

Despite this poor initial reaction, the plaintiffs said, hospital staff continued giving Gann more pain medicine during the next 48 hours without properly monitoring her vital signs and respiratory rates.

But the hospital's lead attorney countered that the patient, a medical assistant, was anemic upon admission and that her negative reaction in the ED was to a transfusion and not to the Dilaudid. As for the lack of monitoring, he argued that Gann was in fact monitored throughout the night, although nurses' testimony during the trial suggested otherwise.

The plaintiffs also alleged that the patient had been given Narcan®, a drug used to counteract drug overdoses, an apparent indication that she had been administered a lethal cocktail of pain meds. But the attorney for the hospital said that the use of Narcan is typical in "Code Blue incidents in which a patient is found unresponsive."

Jurors were sympathetic but ultimately found the plaintiffs' allegations and evidence unpersuasive.

"The attorneys on both sides did a good job putting their cases out there," said the jury foreman after the trial. "But I felt ... like the defense put on a very good case. They answered the allegations and presented the evidence to support their case in a way that went above and beyond what the plaintiffs' arguments were."

The defense also introduced as evidence Gann's autopsy report—which raised the possibility that medication, or the reaction to medication, was a contributing factor in her death. But the jury remained unconvinced, despite the report's vague language: "The woman's death certificate is still somewhat clouded," the foreman said. "But I never was brought to the point where I thought Hillcrest was responsible for her death."

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