Delay in Diagnosing Compartment Syndrome Results in $1.5 Million Jury Verdict

A jury in Washington State has awarded more than $1.5 million dollars to a carpenter and his wife after a physician failed to timely diagnose the 56 year-old man’s compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome is a condition in which swelling compresses muscles, nerves and blood vessels within an area of the body, restricting the flow of oxygen which in turn destroys nerves and muscles. It was the plaintiffs’ position that compartment syndrome must be addressed within six hours of injury to optimize the outcome of the patient.

In the case, the patient fell sixteen feet from scaffolding onto concrete at his job and was airlifted to a local hospital for treatment. At 7:45 p.m., his wife urged hospital staff to summon a physician to examine her husband but it was not until 2:24 a.m. the following morning that a first-year orthopedic resident examined him. At that time, he merely was given morphine which masked the pain. The resident again examined him at 6 a.m. but again failed to diagnose the process in the man’s left hand. It wasn’t until a 7 a.m. examination by a surgeon – more than twelve hours after the initial injury – that it was determined that the man’s hand was completely numb and that he was suffering from significant compartment syndrome.

At 9 a.m. surgical intervention began. Physicians cut the fibrous tissue enclosing the muscle to relieve the pressure and get the blood and oxygen flowing again. Unfortunately, it was too late as the man had permanently lost all use of his left hand which was described in the lawsuit as a “useless and grotesquely deformed limb.” Not surprisingly, the doctor and hospital took the positions that reasonable care was provided and that it was the patient’s unusual presentation that made his condition difficult to quickly diagnose, positions which ultimately were not accepted by the jury.

Our experienced medical malpractice attorneys have successfully litigated numerous cases involving emergency room physicians who have failed to act with any sense of urgency or failed to timely and properly diagnose the patient’s condition, despite clear diagnostic indicators. If you or a loved one may have been the victim of suspected medical negligence, call us at 410-385-2225.

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