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Nield v. Pocatello Health Services – Serious Outcomes of Hospital-Acquired Infections

When Judy went to an Idaho hospital to receive treatment for infected wounds on her legs, she expected that hospital staff would treat her, and she would get better.

What she never anticipated was losing her leg due to a medically-necessitated amputation caused by a hospital-acquired infection. She has since filed a lawsuit, Nield v. Pocatello Health Services reviewed by the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled her claim could proceed.

Our Coral Springs personal injury attorneys know hospital-acquired infections have the potential to result in serious health complications and can even lead to death. Advocates continue to push for tougher standards even as hospitals make millions treating infections resulting from their own negligence.

In many cases, these infections are preventable, the result of hospital staffers failing to use appropriate sanitation methods in order to ensure that their hands, their instruments and their facilities are clean and free of germs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there are approximately 1.7 million hospital-acquired infection deaths every year. In fact, about one in every 20 patients will suffer a hospital-acquired infection, with those infants at the highest risk, while those treated in intensive care units are a close second.

A pilot program is being tested by Stanford that would hopefully significantly reduce the risk of such an infection. The program involves a rigorous, automated checklist for medical professionals to follow in treating each patient. In the initial stages, researches saw a reduction of central line infections from 2.6 per 1,000 to 0.7 per 1,000 while using the program.

In the Nield case, the situation started when the 65-year-old Judy was taken to the emergency room for infections to wounds on her legs. She had received a hip replacement years earlier, had suffered numerous falls and become virtually immobile, causing her to suffer from pressure sores.

Doctors prescribed a series of antibiotics and tested her at the time for the presence of infections known as MRSA and pseudomonas.These risk of these infections in a hospital setting is quite high. She tested negative upon her entry into the hospital.

After monitoring her for several days, the patient was discharged.

However, soon after, her wounds worsened. She returned to the hospital, and at that time, she tested positive for these infections. According to her claim, these infections were picked up while she was receiving treatment at the facility the first time.

By the time doctors examined her, the infection was too far along, and she was forced to undergo amputation of one of her legs.

Her lawsuit claims negligent wound care and unsanitary conditions at the hospital where she was treated amounted to a breach of the hospital and medical staffers’ duty of care to her as a patient.

After the discovery phase of the proceedings, the defendants moved for a summary judgment on the basis of a physician’s opinion, wherein questions were raised regarding whether there were other places Judy may have contracted these infections.

The plaintiff also presented expert witnesses, who testified that it was their opinion the patient had acquired the infections while being treated at the hospital. Surveyors who had observed hospital practices in the months prior to the patient’s admittance noted that staffers were not following sanitation protocol. These included failure by nurses to wash their hands before and after touching infected patients and equipment.

The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff’s witnesses failed to address the possibility that the infections were somehow acquired elsewhere. The appellate court affirmed this decision.

The state supreme court, however, reversed, finding the district court’s determination had been reached in error. The court held that while expert medical testimony is part of how a court can reach its conclusion as to how and where an infection occurred, it is not the only source of this information.

As such, the earlier ruling was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Nield v. Pocatello Health Services, Feb. 14, 2014, Idaho Supreme Court

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Warning: Acetaminophen Intoxication has Life-Threatening Effects, Feb. 4, 2014, Coral Springs Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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