Re-trial against hospital over woman's fall from table starts in local court

David Yates Dec. 1, 2009, 8:14am

Mark Sparks

In 2007, Rosalind Hall successfully sued Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth for more than $100,000 when local jurors ruled the health care provider negligently failed to keep her mother's pacemaker lead in place after she rolled off a surgical table.

However, last March justices seated on the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals overturned the jury verdict and remanded the case for a new trial, opining that "the evidence of proximate cause (was) insufficient."

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, round two in the trial of Rosalind Hall vs. Christus Health Southeast Texas began in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court.

Hall filed suit against Christus back in 2004, alleging St. Elizabeth medical professionals should have kept her mother, Esther Jolivette, restrained with straps during and after her October 2004 procedure to receive a cardiac pacemaker, court papers say.

According to her lawsuit, she explained to the hospital staff prior to her mother's procedure that Jolivette suffered from dementia and was often confused and disoriented – a condition that warranted the use of straps.

As soon as the procedure was over, doctors began to wake Jolivette from her anesthesia, "but before she could even blink, she rolled off the table," said defense attorney Randall Richardson during opening remarks.

Medical records and testimony reveal that Hall escaped serious injury but did sustain bruises to her face and body.

"Fortunately, the only injury she suffered was bruising," Richardson said, adding that the fall was an "unpreventable accident."

Nonetheless, plaintiff's attorney Mark Sparks contends the fall, which he says could have been prevented if she had been strapped down, worsened Jolivette's quality of life and may have jarred lose her pacemaker lead.

Court records show that the pacemaker manufacturer's representative tested Jolivette's pacemaker around one hour after the fall and found the pacemaker was functioning properly.

Richardson told jurors that a restless Jolivette, "who was admittedly confused," refused to wear her immobilizer sleeve, a device to keep the leads in place – forcing her treating physician to administer sedatives to her.

Sparks contends Jolivette should have also been forcibly restrained after the procedure.

But Richardson argues "restraints are used only as a last resort" and most likely will cause patients with dementia, like Jolivette, to become "combative" and even more restless, which could also potentially displace the pacemaker lead.

Either way, on Nov. 5, 2003, the day after the implantation procedure, a test found the lead had dislodged, court papers say.

The following day, a physician re-implanted the pacemaker leads in Jolivette's heart. She was discharged from the hospital two days later, and then died several months later.

Jurors have been tasked to decide whether St. Elizabeth staff could have prevented Jolivette's fall from the catheterization table, and if hospital staff caused the pacemaker lead to become displaced after the procedure.

Hall is suing for her mother's medical expenses and mental anguish.

Sparks is an attorney for the Provost Umphrey law firm in Beaumont.

Richardson is an attorney for the Fulbright & Jaworski law firm in Houston.

Case No. D173-522

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