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LA: alcohol treatment pt. fled, fell, & died: RN calling Dr. re patient's vitals not liable.

CASE FACTS: Fifty-three year-old Robert Ball had a severe alcohol problem. On July 13, 1998, his wife drove him to Charter Forest Hospital (Charter), where he agreed to a "partial inpatient" admission. It failed. He left and got drunk. His wife took him back to Charter the next morning. The Balls arrived at about 10:30 a.m. and met with a counselor for 30 minutes. They met for 45 minutes with Dr. Richard Williams, a psychiatrist and certified addiction physician. Dr. Williams observed shaking, sweating, and agitation. Dr. Williams and Mrs. Ball persuaded Robert to consent to a voluntary admission. At 11:45 a.m., they walked him to the nurses' station. Nurse Laughlin sat him down, and Dr. Williams ordered a dose of 25 mg Librium to ease the effects of withdrawal. Several nurses, including Nurse Laughlin, discussed the dosage and whether it was "unusually low." Dr. Williams felt it was an appropriate initial dosage. After Nurse Laughlin administered the medication, Dr. Williams and the patient's wife left. Nurse Laughlin was left alone with the patient. She knelt beside his chair, made good eye contact, and reassured him that the medicine would help him. She took his vital signs: blood pressure "173/118 (and elevating)" and pulse "126 (irregular)." Believing that the patient was in much more acute distress than Dr. Williams realized, Nurse Laughlin stepped to a telephone a few feet away to call Dr. Williams. Nurse Laughlin saw the patient rise from his chair and hurry down a hallway. She shouted at him to come back, dropped the phone, and ran after him. She found him lying face-up on the floor, having a seizure. She depressed his tongue and called for assistance. The patient had a grand mal seizure. He was taken to Highland Hospital where he died the next day. The cause of death was determined to be "closed head injuries received when the patient struck the back of his head on the floor" at Charter. Mrs. Ball brought suit against Charter and Dr. Williams. She appealed a judgment on a jury verdict for all of the defendants.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeal of Louisiana affirmed the judgment for the defendants. The court held, inter alia, that nurses are subject to the same standard as physicians in regard to the fact that injury alone does not raise a presumption of negligence. The court rejected the contention that Nurse Laughlin's primary job was to see to it that the patient remained seated and should not have stepped away from the patient to call Dr. Williams. The court noted that the nurse stayed alone with the patient for several minutes, made eye contact with him, and established a good rapport. It was only after the nurse took the patient's vital signs that she stepped a few feet away from the patient to notify Dr. Williams of his vitals. Ball v. Behavioral, No. 41,329-CA (La.App.Cir.2 08/23/06) So.2d -LA

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD. is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island firm of A. David Fammelleo & Associates lie has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the Untied States. In addition m his writings as Editor of Medical Law's Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Regan Reports, his legal articles have been published ill the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as all attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition ill Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in American Law, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World
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Title Annotation:Legal Case Briefs for Nurses
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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