Date of Verdict:

October 18.

Court and Case No.:

C.P. Montgomery No. 10-35564 .

Judge:

Thomas P. Rogers.

Type of Action:

Slips, trips and falls; medical malpractice; professional negligence.

Injuries:

Leg, ankle and other injuries.

Plaintiffs Counsel:

Lee S. Bender, Joseph Chaiken & Associates, Philadelphia.

Defense Counsel:

Eamon C. Merrigan, Goldberg, Miller & Rubin, Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs Experts:

Elisabeth Ridgely, legal nurse consulting, Telford, Pa.

Defense Experts:

Joy Schank, nursing, Penn Yan, N.Y.

Comment:

On January 4, 2009, plaintiff Madeline Strange, 79, was a patient at MossRehab in Elkins Park. Strange had been admitted nine days earlier after suffering prior falls and she was found to be a high fall risk requiring assistance with all transfers.

Strange alleged that she had assistance with transfers at all times. However, she claimed that on January 4, she asked for assistance from her wheelchair into her bed, but was told by the nurse assigned to her that she could do it without assistance. Strange claimed that when she attempted to independently transfer herself from the wheelchair to the bed, she fell and fractured her right ankle.

Strange sued MossRehab and its apparent corporate parent. A retained nursing expert opined that, based on Strange’s account of the accident, the nurse violated the standard of care in failing to adhere to the facility’s policies and procedures governing transfers.

The 12-member jury voted 11-1 that MossRehab had not been negligent with respect to Strange’s accident. The jury deliberated for an hour after a four-day trial.

The nurse assigned to Strange testified that she was at the nurses’ station across from Strange’s room when she noticed Strange attempting to get out of her wheelchair without assistance. The nurse said she immediately ran into Strange’s room to assist, but Strange started to fall before she arrived. The nurse testified that she reached Strange as she was going down and was able to grab her from behind and partially break her fall.

Strange’s attorney argued that the incident was unlikely to have occurred as the nurse testified, as she provided no detail as to how the fall occurred in her subsequent chart note and incident report.

Counsel for MossRehab argued that the nurse’s note and incident report were both consistent with the nurse’s description. The defense maintained that both documents noted that Strange fell while transferring from her wheelchair because she was “unable to transfer without assistance,” and that the nurse partially caught the patient. MossRehab’s attorney further argued that there was no evidence supporting Strange’s version of the incident, other than her “self-serving testimony”; therefore, Strange failed to meet her burden of proof, it was argued.

MossRehab’s retained nursing expert opined that the nurse’s records supported the proposition that her actions met the standard of care.

Following Strange’s fall, she was taken to the facility’s emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a bimalleolar fracture to her right ankle. She was then transferred to another hospital in the Einstein Healthcare Network, where she underwent open reduction internal fixation.

Strange was transferred back to MossRehab and incorporated therapy on her ankle into her previously scheduled rehabilitation. Approximately eight weeks later, Strange was discharged home and continued to receive home health care for about eight more weeks. Her suit sought to recover $11,545 in damages for past medical expenses.

The physician who examined Strange during her follow-up care testified that she continues to experience swelling and limitations in her ankle. In addition, the surgical hardware will indefinitely remain in her ankle, the expert opined.

Strange said the injury required her to be moved to the first floor of her independent-living facility. She further testified that she requires the use of a walker and is unable to drive, take her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the movies or cook large meals for her family. Strange’s suit further sought to recover unspecified amounts of non-economic damages, for past and future pain and suffering.

The defense did not dispute the nature of Strange’s injuries as alleged.

— This report first appeared in VerdictSearch Pennsylvania, a publication of ALM.