4 million verdict holding hospital liable for failing to identify patient allergy upheld

One of the most important tasks that any medical professional must perform before treating a patient is identifying their allergies — food, drug or otherwise. Failure to do so can lead to medical complications resulting in serious injuries or even death.

Sadly, this is exactly what transpired in a wrongful death case out of Mississippi, where a 29-year-old woman who was allergic to latex died after undergoing an otherwise routine hysterectomy back in 2000.

According to court records, the young woman had redness on her face and blisters on her lips, and complained of both itching and nausea immediately after undergoing the surgery at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center. She was subsequently given medication to treat these symptoms.

The next morning, however, the young woman’s husband alerted medical staff that his wife was unresponsive and making “gurgling sounds.” An emergency physician then determined that she was in cardiac distress and proceeded to intubate her.

The young woman was then taken to Baptist’s ICU and placed on a ventilator. Sadly, she did not regain consciousness and was taken on life support by her family on July 14, 2000.

Her husband subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baptist alleging that his wife’s untimely death was caused by the failure of its physicians and staff to identify her latex allergy and take the appropriate measures.

During trial, the husband’s attorney presented documents expressly outlining Baptist’s policies and procedures for patient allergies. Here, the policy mandated that all admitted patients be assessed for a possible latex allergy and that all patients who noted certain items making them candidates for a possible latex allergy undergo additional questioning.

If such an allergy risk was found to be present, the nurse was required to note it on the assessment form, in the patient’s chart, on the patient’s door and in other departments throughout the hospital (i.e., food services, medical supplies).

Two nurses later testified that they did not follow this procedure. Specifically, the nurse who prepared the assessment form testified that she did not notify a physician or follow the protocol even though the young woman had indicated that she was allergic to chestnuts — often an indication of a possible latex allergy. The second nurse testified to simply ignoring the form altogether.

Ultimately, the jury found that while the physicians who performed the surgery were not liable, Baptist was indeed liable for the medical negligence of its nursing staff. They awarded the husband over $4 million and the woman’s beneficiaries over $500,000. This award was recently affirmed by the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

It is important to remember that if you or a loved one is undergoing some kind of medical treatment, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to alert medical professionals to any known allergies whenever you feel it’s necessary. Furthermore, it’s also perfectly acceptable to ask questions about possible allergies.

Source: Outpatient Surgery, “Inside $4.7M Fatal Latex Allergy Case,” Mark McGraw, July 10, 2012

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