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Trendelenburg Patient's Fall Leads to Long Legal Battle

Surveillance video contradicts patient's claims, limits damage.

Published: December 30, 2016

STEEP PRICE? Failing to adequately secure a Trendelenburg patient could be costly.

While undergoing an emergency appendectomy in Louisiana, a Florida man in the Trendelenburg position slid off the operating table and ended up on the floor. The incident was the catalyst for what became a 9-year legal battle that just recently concluded.

West Jefferson Medical Center, just outside New Orleans, admitted that its nurses had clearly failed to secure the patient and reached a confidential settlement with the patient.

But the patient, Coley D. Purvis, pressed the matter further. Initially, he also sued 2 surgeons and the anesthesiologist, claiming he'd sustained several injuries, including cervical herniated discs and bulging, aggravation of a preexisting lumbar herniated disc, anxiety, depression and a traumatic brain injury resulting in a seizure disorder, all of which he claimed rendered him totally and permanently disabled.

After a medical review panel exonerated the 3 physicians, all of whom were dismissed from the case by summary judgment, Mr. Purvis — claiming he'd suffered damages in excess of $100,000 — sued the Louisiana Patient's Compensation Fund (PCF). (The PCF serves as an "excess insurer." Providers who pay the fund a surcharge reduce their malpractice liability to the first $100,000 of exposure per claim).

Hours after surgery, Mr. Purvis complained that he was having shoulder, head and neck pain. That was when he learned about the accident. One of the surgeons explained that fortunately he'd managed to grab ahold of Mr. Purvis about 6 to 12 inches above the floor and had carefully guided him to the floor.

But Mr. Purvis didn't accept that account. He insisted in court that he must have hit the floor "at a rapid rate of speed," causing what turned out to be life-altering injuries. He'd suffered significant economic loss and loss of lifestyle as a result, he said, and could no longer perform the physical demands and travel associated with his job.

In fact, an SSI form filled out on his behalf 3 years after the incident claimed that he couldn't lift more than 10 pounds; that he couldn't sit, stand, or walk for more than 15 minutes at a time; and that he couldn't reach overhead, climb stairs or ramps, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl.

But a surveillance video taken in 2013 told a different story. It showed him loading a pickup truck with several items, including a mattress and box spring, and it showed him bending. There was also evidence that long before the emergency appendectomy, he'd been treated for many of the same physical and emotional complaints he was now attributing to the fall from the OR table.

Both the trial court and an appeals court ultimately denied his claim against the PCF, ruling that it was clear that he'd suffered many similar problems before the accident, and that he had failed to prove the nature and extent of any new injuries.

Jim Burger


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Trendelenburg Patient's Fall Leads to Long Legal Battle

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