Articles Posted in Spinal Cord Injuries

A jury in a federal lawsuit in Cheyenne, Wyoming has awarded $9 million to Louis and Rebecca Prager. The suit against Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, Wyoming and Dr. Brian Cullison alleged medical negligence during treatment of Mr. Prager in 2008, leading to permanent disabilities. The award may be the largest medical malpractice verdict in Wyoming history.

Prager, an oil field worker, was involved in a rollover accident on December 9, 2008, when the truck he was driving for his employer went off the road in icy conditions.. An ambulance crew immobilized him on a backboard, placed a neck brace on him, and rushed him to the emergency room at Campbell County Memorial Hospital. According to the lawsuit, despite complaints of neck pain, Cullison released Prager without examining him, taking x-rays of his neck, or providing him with a cervical collar.

Prager, 51 years old at the time, returned to the hospital four days later after losing the use of his left arm and shoulder. The hospital found multiple fractures to his cervical spine and performed emergency neck fusion surgery. The surgery prevented any further injury, but could not repair the nerve damage. He has since had a second neck fusion operation and will probably require more in the future. He has also undergone several procedures aimed at reducing his pain. He has been unable to work since the accident.

Prager’s lawsuit alleged that Cullison’s failure to diagnose his broken neck led to permanent C5 nerve root injuries, and sought to hold the doctor and the hospital liable for his expenses, pain and suffering, and future costs. Defense attorneys argued that Prager’s pain and loss of use of his arm resulted from a progressive shoulder injury, not the failure to diagnose the cervical injury. After a nine-day trial in October 2011, the jury determined that the negligence of the hospital and doctor caused Prager $7 million in damages. They awarded an additional $2 million in damages for loss of consortium to Prager’s wife, Rebecca. “Loss of consortium” damages relate to the loss of companionship and support suffered by the spouse or partner of an injured plaintiff. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, this is the largest medical malpractice award in the state’s history, beating the previous record of $1.5 million by a wide margin.

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A Colorado man faces assault charges after a fight over a parking space outside a bagel shop on the morning of Saturday, October 1. According to an arrest warrant issued October 4, the victim suffered a fractured spine, head injuries, and multiple abrasions and contusions. The victim presented in court that day with a U-shaped wound on his forehead. The incident made news in part because the alleged assailant had returned from Pakistan a few months earlier, where he had worked as a contractor for the CIA and was involved in a shooting incident.

Police originally arrested the man on charges of third-degree assault. When it became clear that the victim suffered a broken vertebra, authorities raised the charge to second-degree assault. As of October 5, no charges were pending against the victim for any actions in the fight. The alleged assailant admitted to hitting the victim first, but claims that the victim also hit him five times. Colorado law defines third-degree assault in part as “with criminal negligence…caus[ing] bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon” and classifies it as a class 1 misdemeanor. Second-degree assault is defined in part as “[w]ith intent to cause bodily injury to another person…caus[ing] such injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon” and classified as a class 4 felony. Reports on the incident do not indicate if police allege use of a weapon by the alleged assailant. The key difference between the two criminal charges is the required mental state of the accused, although the distinction for authorities appeared to be the extent of the victim’s injuries.

Spinal cord injuries, defined as any injury resulting from trauma, can have serious consequences for the victim. Effects range from incontinence or impaired mobility to full paralysis. Treatments for spinal cord injuries generally involved extensive rehabilitative therapy, as well as surgeries and pharmaceutical and psychological treatment. Obviously a long course of treatment becomes exceedingly expensive for the victim. While the diagnosis and treatment of spinal cord injuries has advanced over the years, severe injuries still carry little hope for full recovery. In addition to treatment and rehabilitation, victims must make substantial adjustments in their lifestyle and occupation.

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