$3 Million - $3 Million Verdict in Unsupervised Epilepsy patient who fell in Hospital Bathroom

Unsupervised Epilepsy Patient Fell in Hospital Bathroom
Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pa.
March Term, 2002 - No. 004275.

Andrew Gentile v. University of Pennsylvania

Early in the morning on July 9, 2000, plaintiff Andrew Gentile, a 49-year-old autobody mechanic, got out of bed to use the restroom located in his room at the epilepsy monitoring unit of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. While a nurse waited for him outside the bathroom, Gentile had a grand mal seizure inside and fell, hitting his head and injuring his back. Gentile's seizures were being studied to determine whether he was a candidate for brain surgery that could have alleviated his longstanding seizure disorder.

The epilepsy monitoring unit is equipped with continuous video and EEG monitoring so that a nurse can observe a patient on video screen while they are in bed and observe the EEG tracings that monitor and document their brainwaves. The patient is weaned off the medication so that he experiences a seizure while under observation. The physicians use the information to determine whether the patient is a candidate for surgery. The patients are under 24-hour surveillance by the nursing staff.

Gentile sued the University of Pennsylvania for the negligent acts of its nursing staff. He argued that the institution had specific nursing management standards, guidelines and protocols, which it failed to follow including: keeping bedrails up at night; using a lapbelt; reattaching EEG electrodes prior to entering a bathroom; and accompanying seizure patients into the bathroom. He asserted that University of Pennsylvania knew that his seizures could occur without warning and that he had a history falling when they occurred. He also argued that the responsible nurse had deviated from the accepted standard of nursing care by allowing him to use the restroom unaccompanied.

INJURIES AND DAMAGES

Gentile sustained two fractured thoracic vertebrae as a result of the fall and required surgical implantation of two rods and screws in his back. His prognosis is poor and it is unlikely that he will be able to find gainful employment again. His expert witness opined that his lost earnings are in the range of $380,000 to $720,000. The injuries cause him reduced range of motion and inability to participate in activities of daily living. He remains in constant and intractable pain. Gentile sought damages for pain and suffering and lost earning capacity.

Trial Judge: Hon. Gregory E. Smith.

Injuries: Fracture, vertebra.

Insurer: Self Insured.

Result: The jury found for Gentile and awarded a lump sum of $3,000,000 in damages.

Trial Details:
Trial Length: 8 days.
Jury Deliberations: 1 hour.
Jury Poll: 10-2.

Plaintiff's Expert Witnesses:
Laurie Browngoehl, M.D., (Physical Medicine), Haverford, Pennsylvania; Karen McGinnis, R.N., (Nursing), Westchester, Pennsylvania; Donald E. Jennings, (Vocational Assessment), Feasterville, Pennsylvania; and Stephen I. Esses, M.D., (Orthopedic Surgery), Houston, Texas.

Plaintiff's Attorneys:
Kenneth M. Rothweiler (co-lead) and Frederic S. Eisenberg (co-lead) of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C.

Defendant's Attorneys:
Peter J. Lynch and Christina Tershakovec of Christie, Pabarue, Mortensen and Young.

Post-Trial:
The defense has filed motions for a new trial and JNOV.