Michael O. Pitt recently obtained a defense verdict on behalf of an emergency room physician in a nine day jury trial involving allegations of a failure to diagnose an epidural abscess. 

This case involved a patient who presented to the emergency department with complaints of back pain, anxiety, fever, nausea, and vomiting.  The plaintiff had a longstanding history of drug and alcohol abuse, and admitted to treating his chronic back pain with heroin.  Shortly after his initial presentation to the emergency department his symptoms improved and he was diagnosed with acute back pain and narcotic withdrawal. 

The next day, blood cultures that were ordered in the emergency department revealed the plaintiff had methicillin resistant staph aureus bacteremia.  Although this is a treatable condition, it can be life threatening if not treated timely.  Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the hospital staff was unable to reach him on the telephone number he provided the previous day.  Further, despite increased symptoms that included weakness and tingling in the legs, the plaintiff failed to return to the emergency room as instructed. Instead, the plaintiff continued to use heroin to treat his symptoms.  The plaintiff finally returned to the emergency department the following day, and is now paralyzed from the chest down. 

The defense successfully argued that even though the emergency room physician discharged the plaintiff with a diagnosis of acute back pain and narcotic withdrawal, plaintiff’s presenting symptoms were consistent with this diagnosis.  In support of this argument, experts in emergency medicine and infectious disease were called to testify and supported this defense. 

After deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous 12 – 0 verdict, finding that the defendant physician’s treatment of the plaintiff was not negligent.