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Nurse `Forgot' & Gave Blood to Jehovah's Witness.

CASE ON POINT: Tatman v. Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, 2001 WL 378688 So.2d -TN

ISSUE: Most of us are cognizant of the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses will not consent to blood transfusions. This includes not only blood but blood products. In this interesting Tennessee case, a patient who was a Jehovah's Witness clearly expressed his refusal to consent to receiving blood or blood products. Notwithstanding the patient's directive, a nurse "forgot" the patient's orders and administered blood products to the patient. This precipitated a suit against a hospital for battery.

CASE FACTS: Craig Tatman, a devout Jehovah's Witness, underwent heart surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center (Defendant). Prior to the surgery, the attending physician and the Defendant were specifically informed that the patient was not to receive any blood or blood products. While the patient was recovering from surgery, he experienced a dramatic decrease in blood pressure. The attending critical care nurse "forgot" that the patient was a Jehovah's Witness and administered Protenate, a protein fraction derived from human plasma. This was contrary to the patient's religious tenets. At trial, the hospital admitted that a medical battery had taken place. At the close of the Defendant's case, the patient moved for a directed verdict on the issue of liability. Leaving the jury nothing but damages to consider. The trial court granted the motion, and then, in accordance with the previous discussion, indicated to counsel that the jury charge would be that a medical battery, was committed and the issue which jury was to decide was what sum of money, if any, the patient was entitled to recover as compensatory damages for the battery. The only issue presented to the jury was the amount of compensatory damages to which the patient was entitled. No jury instruction was requested or given regarding nominal damages. The jury returned a verdict for compensatory damages in the amount of $0.00. The patient filed a motion requesting an additur or a new trial. The patient's motion was denied. The patient appealed.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed the judgment of the lower court. The court held, inter aila, that there was no question there had been a medical battery. The only issue was the amount of damages. The patient and his wife were required to sign a release titled "Refusal to Permit Blood Transfusion," which released Defendant, attending physicians, and hospital personnel from liability arising from the refusal of blood or blood products.

LEGAL COMMENTARY: Acting as a thirteenth juror, a trial court is empowered to set aside a jury verdict and order a new trial. If a trial court determines that the amount of a verdict is excessive or inadequate, in lieu of granting a new trial, it may suggest a remittitur or an additur. However, when a trial court approves a jury verdict, appellate courts may only review the record to determine whether the record contains material evidence to support the jury's verdict. Thus the jury bears primary responsibility for awarding damages in a personal injury suit, followed closely by the trial court in its role as a thirteenth juror. When a trial court approves a verdict awarding damages in a personal injury suit, the court's review is subject to the rule that if there is any material evidence to support the jury's award, that award should not be disturbed. The court noted that in reaching its conclusion, it had no doubt that the patient's religious beliefs were vital to him and strongly held. The jury was asked to determine only if the patient was entitled to any "compensatory" damages given his undisputed religious beliefs, the incident which occurred, and its impact on him. The court found that the jury did this. The trial court approved the verdict. The record contains material evidence to support the verdict. Accordingly, the court held that it had no choice but to affirm the jury's verdict. This case illustrates the need to clearly label such patients and their charts as patients who are not to be given blood in accordance with their religious beliefs. Whether nurses, physicians, or other healthcare providers believe or disbelieve the strongly held religious views of Jehovah's Witnesses, they are under a legal, moral, and ethical duty to adhere to any adult competent patient's wishes. Although the amount of compensatory damages in this case was, in fact, $0.00, the fact remains that the patient in this case was given blood contrary to his wishes and the hospital as well as nurses involved were complicit in committing a battery on the patient. All reasonable steps should be taken to avoid this from happening. There should be fail-safe protocols in place to ensure that Jehovah's Witnesses are not given blood or blood products without their consent. If your hospital does not have protocols in place to ensure against such errors, then, you should make every effort to see to it that appropriate steps are taken to draft and implement protocols to help ensure that nurses do not "forget" patients' directions. A trained professional nurse should not forget such a significant directive. If he or she forgets this, what else might he or she forget?

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for nearly 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Providence, R.I., firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Reagan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers and Marquis Who's Who in American Law.
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Article Details
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
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