Freida Wilson v. Affinity Health Care Management Inc. d/b/a Alexandria Manor: A jury sided with a Bloomfield nursing and rehabilitation facility that had been sued for negligence by a former patient who contracted an infection in her newly replaced hip.
The plaintiff’s lawyer had asked the jury for around $2 million.
On Feb. 5, 2009, Freida Wilson, then 73, was admitted to the hospital for right hip replacement surgery. Wilson had degenerative arthritis and previously had her left hip surgically replaced.
After a few days in the hospital, hip replacement patients usually are moved to a rehabilitation facility. There, nurses and therapists try to get them on their feet and walking, if possible.
Wilson went to Alexandria Manor, part of the Affinity Health Care Group. Her orthopedic surgeon placed her on Coumadin, a medication used to prevent blood clots, explained a lawyer for Alexandria Manor, John Costa, of Ryan Ryan Deluca in Stamford. After taking the drug for some time, Wilson’s blood became dangerously thin. Tests gave her an anticoagulation rating of 13.7. The normal rating is two or three.
Wilson claims that before leaving Alexandria Manor, she bled profusely from her wound for three consecutive days. The facility’s nurses maintained that there was never any serious bleeding. Instead, they said there was serosanguineous drainage, meaning tinge amounts of blood mixed with clear fluids.
A couple days after leaving the facility and returning home, Wilson developed an infection in the new hip. Her surgeon claimed the high anticoagulation level while she was at Alexandria Manor resulted in a hematoma, which became infected, resulting in another surgical procedure to remove the hardware.
Plaintiffs lawyer Gregory Cantwell, of the Law Office of Jefferson D. Jelly in West Hartford, alleged that Alexandria Manor was negligent because the medical staff gave Wilson too much blood-thinning medication, which led to the hematoma and infection. The surgeon testified that if he had been notified by the nursing staff earlier, he would have discontinued the Coumadin and the hematoma would have been prevented, thus preventing the infection.
Cantwell explained that Wilson, on a Friday, told a nurse about feeling pain and a dripping sensation at the incision site. The nurse, before going home for the weekend, tried unsuccessfully to call Wilson’s doctor. No efforts were made to contact the doctor over the weekend, but on the following Monday, the same nurse reached out again.
Once the doctor was aware of Wilson’s symptoms and dangerously high anticoagulation rating, he ordered the nurses to stop the medication. “They needed to continue to try to reach a physician on Friday,” said Cantwell. “Her Coumadin would’ve been stopped earlier and the ultimate infection would’ve been stopped sooner.”
As Wilson was convalescing at home, the hematoma became larger and she had to be hospitalized. Doctors discovered the infection around the surgical wound and inside the hip, and Wilson had surgery to remove the hip replacement hardware on March 4, 2009. Costa said doctors replaced it with a cement material bathed in liquid antibiotics that over time fights off the infection. Wilson also received antibiotics intravenously.
Once the infection went away, she had another hip replacement surgery. “There’s no question she had a terrible [time] you wouldn’t want anybody to have,” said Costa. “If her case was based on sympathy, you would’ve given her the moon. But [the infection] wasn’t from negligence.”
Costa initially filed a motion arguing that the plaintiff could not bring a negligence claim. Instead, he argued it was a medical malpractice case. To file a malpractice case, a plaintiff must first find a similar medical provider—in this case, a nursing expert—willing to state that an acceptable standard of care was violated.
However, Costa’s motion was denied. So his strategy turned to showing that Wilson did not contract the infection because of any negligence on the part of Alexandria Manor. He argued that nurses never saw any white, soupy pus that would indicate infection.
“[Wilson's] chart indicated no sign of bleeding or infection,” said Costa, noting she stayed at the rehab facility for three weeks. Costa said the facility, knowing her blood had thinned so much, regularly checked her stool and urine for blood due to possible internal bleeding. No blood was found. Nor did Wilson have any other signs of infection, said Costa, including fever, redness and swelling around the surgical incision, elevated white blood cell count, or the presence of pus.
The case went to trial before Hartford Superior Court Judge A. Susan Peck in late February. Evidence presentation lasted seven days. Costa said he cross-examined Wilson’s doctor and questioned why, if he thought an infection was present from her stay at Alexandria Manor, did he not remove her from the facility sooner and give her antibiotics sooner.
Costa, through expert witnesses, also argued that the hematoma started on the day of the first surgery but that there were no signs or symptoms of infection at any time during the resident’s stay at the facility.
Cantwell told the jury that Wilson had a life expectancy of 10 more years. He argued that her future pain over that decade should be worth $800,000 to $900,000, and that her past pain and suffering was worth at least that. Further, she had medical bills of $156,000 at that point. All in all, the plaintiff sought around $2 million in damages.
The jury deliberated for three days before finally rendering a defense verdict March 5. Costa said he was unsure why jurors took so long to make a decision.
Cantwell explained that the jury was given two interrogatory questions. The first was whether Alexandria Manor was negligent. He said the jury agreed that the facility was negligent. However, the next question was whether that negligence caused the infection to Wilson. The jury answered no. “The jury believed there was negligence but not sufficient proof to link that negligence to the resulting infection the next week,” Cantwell said.
Assisting Costa was Nicole Wright, an associate at the firm, and a nurse who works at the firm as a consultant, Maureen Kaps.•