Sommers Schwartz attorneys Richard Groffsky and Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller secured a confidential $1.975 million hospital malpractice settlement on behalf of a client now permanently paralyzed due to the failure to timely diagnose and treat an epidural abscess in his spine.
The plaintiff, then age 60, presented to the defendant emergency room complaining of back pain, and he was noted to have worsening neurologic deficit and an elevated white blood cell count, indicative of a spinal epidural abscess. Given his presentation, the plaintiff alleged that an immediate MRI scan of the spine was indicated; the test could not be performed at the facility, so a transfer to another hospital – just two miles away – was mandated, but was never carried out.
A CT scan of the lumbar spine was taken shortly after the plaintiff’s arrival at the ER and demonstrated a possible right iliopsoas abscess. It is well accepted that infections from abscesses in that area can be transmitted into the bloodstream, spreading to the epidural space.
The plaintiff was admitted, and over the next 24 hours, his neurologic condition deteriorated from weakness with intact rectal tone to complete and total paralysis, and he became unable to breathe on his own. Medical records showed an initial request for a neurological consult on a routine basis and a STAT neurological consult request the following morning, yet no neurologist saw the plaintiff until two days after his admission.
Three days after arriving at the ER, he was transferred to another hospital. There, he underwent an MRI of his cervical spine that identified the epidural abscess, prompting immediate surgery. Unfortunately, the delay in diagnosing and treating the abscess resulted in the plaintiff’s permanent paralysis, for which he now needs 24-hour skilled care that he will continue to require for the rest of his life.
The lawsuit claimed that, according to accepted medical practice and literature, the triad of signs and symptoms – back pain, decreasing neurologic deficit, and an elevated white count – should have immediately triggered a differential diagnosis which included spinal epidural abscess. The plaintiff argued that had he received a prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, he would have experienced a far better outcome.