Christus vindicated in second trial over woman's fall

David Yates Dec. 8, 2009, 5:20am


As a medical malpractice trial against Christus St. Elizabeth neared its conclusion on Monday, plaintiff's attorney Mark Sparks told jurors that he believed they had all been drawn together for a meaningful purpose.

Evidently, that purpose was to vindicate the hospital of any negligence and leave the lawyer and his client empty handed.

On Dec. 7, after only a few hours of deliberations, a Jefferson County jury found in favor of Christus, awarding no damages to plaintiff Rosalind Hall and ruling that the hospital was not responsible for her mother's fall from a surgical table.

Sparks, a Provost Umphrey attorney, had asked jurors to award Hall more than $1 million in damages.

"We need the numbers (money) to change things, unless you want the standard of care to stay below average," Sparks said in closing arguments. "I'm not trying to get religious, but meeting all of you ... getting the opportunity to represent Mrs. Hall ... all of this has to mean something."

Jurors had been tasked to decide whether St. Elizabeth staff could have prevented Hall's mother's fall and if hospital staff caused the woman's pacemaker lead to become displaced. Despite Spark's emotional final plea, the jury ruled in the hospital's favor on both counts.

Case background

In 2007, Hall had 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 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, Hall claims 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 she said 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 "unexpected accident."

Nonetheless, Sparks contended 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 loose 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 the treating physician to give her sedatives.

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

But Richardson argued "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.

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

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

Case No. D173-522

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