WIDOW V. HOSPITAL, et al. (Northern California)

Widow v. Hospital, et al. (Total Settlement: $350,000)The client’s husband underwent a total knee replacement, the same surgery that he had undergone four months earlier. Immediately after the surgery, the nurses placed him on a PCA (Patient Controlled Anesthesia) machine that would allow him to self-administer Dilaudid, a pain killer eight times as potent as morphine. The PCA machine is designed to respond to the patient’s perceived pain levels, but to ensure safety, nurses must set a ceiling on the total amount of medicine that the patient can administer with each push of the PCA button and the total within a specific time-frame. This is intended to ultimately prevent overdoses and even death.

Tragically, the first set of nurses in the post-anasthesia recovery unit were responsible for setting the cap on the PCA. The first nurse was to set the ceiling according to the specific order by the surgeon, and instead she set it 3.5 times higher than ordered. Then, the second nurse was to double check the setting with the actual physician’s order. This was set procedure. Unfortunately, she failed to do so. Shortly thereafter, the patient was transfered to the regular floor. Upon transfer, two additional nurses were to go through the same procedure to prevent an overdose, confirming the order with the setting. All four nurses failed to follow hospital policies and procedures.

Consequently, the patient, a father and husband, euthanized himself by self-administering pain medication to the point of death, right in front of his unsuspecting and eventually terrified wife. To compound this tragedy, the medical staff and risk manager met with the widow shortly after her husband’s death and informed her that they had made a mistake but it did not cause his death. In fact, after Brown & Gessell started investigating the death, we discovered that the nurses had covered up the error. In deposition, one of the nurses admitted that she had changed the chart and another nurse admitted that she was aware of this cover-up. Brown & Gessell held them accountable and it led to a very favorable settlement that will never bring back her husband, but does help her continue her life.

It took extensive efforts to show that they had falsified the records. We were able to obtain a nurse’s admission of what she had done. We obtained the internal data from the PCA machine to show what had happened. The hospital settled this case for full value, and although nothing can bring back this wonderful woman’s husband, she is taken care of financially. This was despite their meeting with the widow prior to our retention where they told her that they did not cause his death. We proved otherwise.