Woman with nerve damage wins reversal in med-mal case against hospital

A woman who suffers from nerve damage after dye was allegedly negligently injected into her arm for a medical scan has won a reversal against the southern Indiana hospital that administered the procedure.

In 2015, Nataomi Riley was scheduled to receive a CT scan at St. Mary’s Medical Center of Evansville Inc. As hospital radiologic technologist Karen Osborne injected contrast dye into Riley’s arm in preparation for the scan, Riley, who had previous experience with the procedure, began experiencing intense pain in her arm.

Riley was removed from the CT machine due to the pain, and a different RT inserted contrast dye into Riley’s other arm without any problems. Osborne determined infiltration had occurred when an egg-sized swelling formed on Riley’s arm following the first injection.

By the time she returned home, Riley’s swelling had significantly increased, and she was rushed to the emergency room for her pain. Surgery was ultimately performed on Riley’s hand where the flesh had broken open, leaving her with weeks of home health care and nerve damage to her dominant hand.

Riley then filed a medical malpractice claim alleging she had “developed compartment syndrome of the right arm requiring emergency surgery and prolonged wound care” and “suffered permanent neurological and muscular damage to [her] right arm,” among other things. However, a medical review panel found the hospital was not responsible.

The woman then proceeded in court, and in her defense, RT Barry Southers opined in an affidavit that Osborne had not followed the standard of care under the circumstances and that her conduct was a factor in Riley’s resultant injuries. Although the hospital conceded Southers’ affidavit established a genuine issue of material fact regarding a breach of the standard of care, it argued he was not qualified to render an expert opinion on causation.

The Vanderburgh Circuit Court ultimately granted the hospital’s motion for summary judgment.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision Tuesday in Natoami Riley, et al. v. St. Mary’s Medical Center of Evansville, Inc.,19A-CT-844, agreeing with Riley that Southers was indeed qualified to render an expert opinion on whether the hospital’s breach proximately caused her injuries.

Further, the appellate court disagreed with the hospital’s assertion that some contrast medium may be introduced into the surrounding tissue without negligence, noting some contrast is different from a “significant” amount of contrast that could cause more damage.

“It was not Southers’s task to pinpoint the precise amount of contrast medium it would have taken to cause any injury to Nataomi; it was merely his task to state, based on his expertise, whether Osborne’s alleged breach of the standard of care was a proximate cause of the injuries that Nataomi actually suffered,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the appellate panel. “The Rileys point out that Nataomi ‘faced a visible collection of caustic fluid just under her skin the same size as the fluid introduced by [RT] Osborne, within seconds of the injection.’ The causation issue here was not complex, and therefore we conclude that Southers was qualified to render an expert opinion and thus establish a genuine issue of material fact on that issue.”

The appellate court thus reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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