Baptist says no evidence in suit filed by woman who lost finger in wheelchair

By David Yates | May 20, 2010

Arguing that there is no way a jury can reach a verdict from "meager circumstantial evidence," Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont Hospital is seeking dismissal from a case filed by a woman who lost her finger to a wheelchair.

According to plaintiff Sarah Johnson, the tip of her right index finger was sliced off as she helped her mother into a wheelchair at the hospital.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported in May 2007, Johnson sued the Memorial Hermann Hospital System for providing a defective wheelchair and for maliciously failing to warn her that such a dangerous scenario existed.

Last April, Baptist Hosptial filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that "in this case the evidence shows as a matter of law that the wheelchair at issue was not defective."

A hearing was slated for May 19 in Judge Bob Wortham's 58th District Court. However, the parties met in the judge's chambers and no ruling was made on the motion.

In its motion, Baptist says "the occurrence of an accident is not evidence of negligence.

"Here, the evidence in the case conclusively negates that a duty existed or that (Baptist) breached an alleged duty," the motion states. "Consequently, Baptist respectfully requests summary judgment to be entered in its favor."

Court documents show that on Dec. 18, 2006, Johnson was visiting her mother at Baptist Hospital, "when she was helping her mother into a wheelchair and the top portion of her right index finger was cut off."

Johnson argues that her "bodily injuries occurred as a direct result of faulty equipment."

However, the suit does not state how the wheelchair was defective, only that the hospital staff should have been on hand to help her move her mother.

"The defendant was negligent in not providing sufficient staff to assist in patient care ... there should have been sufficient staff available to aid plaintiff's mother in getting into the wheelchair," the suit said, adding that the hospital's employees "knowingly caused an unsafe and hazardous situation."

Baptist had several experts examine the wheelchair and found no defect, court papers say.

"The evidence shows that there was no defect in the wheelchair, and thus no breach for failure to maintain the wheelchair of for failure to warn of an unknown unforeseeable danger," Baptist's motion states. "Summary judgment is proper."

But Johnson maintains that she is entitled to exemplary damages because Baptist had subjective awareness of the risk involved in operating a wheelchair and acted with malice.

She is also suing for past and future medical expenses, physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment and disfigurement, loss of earning capacity and fear of future disease or condition.

Johnson is represented by attorney Timothy Sawyer of the Lindsay & Morgan law firm in Beaumont.

Baptist is represented by attorney James Old Jr. of Beaumont's Germer Gertz law firm.

Case No. A179-377

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