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Catastrophic medical malpractice in an urgent care facility

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Lifting is one of the top workplace injuries in the United States. In one worker's case, going to a medical facility for the injury turned catastrophic due to urgent care staff negligence.

The worker strained his back in a lifting incident at work and then walked across the street to the hospital's urgent care facility for treatment.

Medical treatment protocols

All medical facilities follow treatment instructions, called protocols, that list a sequence of actions to perform when a patient presents with a particular symptom. Emergency rooms and urgent care centers have protocols for every type of injury they treat. The man and his wife sat down in the waiting area of the urgent care center to fill out paperwork. He dutifully wrote that he had a long-standing history of spinal disc disease. He also noted how the current injury happened and the location of his pain.

Back injury protocols

The man's medical history with spine disease and the fact that he injured his back by lifting should have alerted the urgent care team that he may have a serious injury. The protocol for that condition was to completely immobilize the man and transfer him to the hospital ER. Instead, the urgent care staff sent him down the hall and told him to change into a gown. They spent a long time having the man walk around for different X-rays and tests, while they twisted his torso into awkward positions for the films. When he walked to yet another room, he could not stand for the X-ray. He told the technician he could no longer feel his legs.

Incredibly, the staff continued to perform tests on the man. They finally gave up and took him to the hospital's ER. Most nonmedical people know they should not move an injured person. The urgent care protocol, coupled with the man's medical paperwork, should have immediately told doctors their patient was at high risk for a spine injury. The hospital ER found the man had ruptured a disk in his back. The urgent care facility staff moved him around so much, a bone from the ruptured disc finally severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him.

Court trial protocols

The man sued the hospital. Incredibly, the hospital's attorney blamed the man, saying he should have gone to the ER in the first place. Apparently, the patient failed to correctly diagnose his own injury. The defense opined it was the patient's fault he became paralyzed. 

The jury was not impressed with the defense attorney's creativity. The patient's lawyer explained that, according to the urgent care center's own protocol, they failed to diagnose a classic case of spinal cord involvement risk. They also did not follow their medical treatment protocol. The jury deliberated. Unmoved by the hospital's attempt to blame the victim, the jury found the hospital guilty of paralyzing the patient and awarded the man $7.9 million plus another million dollars for pain and suffering.

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