Boston Medical Center Settles Fatal Fall Lawsuit

The Boston Globe reports that Boston Medical Center has agreed to pay $900,000 to the family of an 86-year-old woman who died after falling in the operating room.

Catherine O’Donnell fell from the operating room table moments after having surgery to replace a broken hip in October 2007. She suffered a major head injury and died a week later.

O’Donnell fell through a gap in the surgical table after a nurse removed the safety strap around her torso in preparation to move her to a hospital bed, according to the Department of Public Health report. O’Donnell was still under anesthesia and still had a breathing tube in her mouth. The fall fractured her skull, causing internal bleeding.

“Obviously, everyone has to go, but for her to go in this manner and for us to have to make those decision for the family is terrible,” said her son, who decided to take his mother off life support when doctors told him chances of recovery were slim. “We want assurances that you can go into that hospital and not have this happen to someone else.”

The Suffolk Superior Court wrongful death suit named four defendants including two doctors and two nurses who were in the room at the time. A spokeswoman for the hospital told The Boston Globe that the medical center has altered their operating room procedures to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future.

“We regret that this tragic accident occurred and are sorry for the pain it has caused the O'Donnell family,” said Ellen Berlin, spokesperson for the medical center.

Paul Dreyer, director of the Massachusetts Health Department’s Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality said that falls from surgical tables are unusual, although 400 to 500 hospital patients are injured in Massachusetts each year.

The specially designed surgical table had a large opening near the torso that enabled easy access from x-rays. After a nurse removed the safety strap from O’Donnell and began walking around the table to transfer O’Donnell to a bed, she saw that the patient was falling through the opening, buttocks first. The nurse tried to catch the patient, but O’Donnell still fell and hit her head on the floor.

The Health Department report determined that the “removal of the . . . safety belt from the patient was not verbally communicated.” The state inspection found that deficiencies contributed to O’Donnell’s death.

The hospital now has a policy that requires all nurses and doctors to place their hands on the patient before removing the safety belt.

The family’s medical malpractice attorney Andrew C. Meyer, Jr., argued that the hospital staff failed to take adequate safety precautions and said, “This is a case involving clear neglect with a horrifying outcome.”

If you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice, contact an experienced Georgia medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. If you have questions about your legal rights, contact MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.