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Washington v. Washington Hospital Center

District of Columbia Court of Appeals
579 A.2d 177 (1990)


LaVerne Thompson (plaintiff), 36, underwent an abortion and tubal ligation which required general anesthesia at the Washington Hospital Center (WHC) (defendant). A nurse inserted an endotracheal tube into Thompson’s throat to provide her with oxygen and to remove carbon dioxide from her body while she was under anesthesia. The tube should have been inserted into Thompson’s trachea just above her lungs. Instead, the tube was inserted into Thompson’s esophagus above the stomach. During the operation, the surgeon noticed that Thompson’s blood was unusually dark, indicating a lack of oxygen to her tissues. Thompson’s heart rate dropped and she went into cardiac arrest. She was resuscitated but had suffered significant oxygen deprivation. Consequently, Thompson was in a persistent vegetative state, totally incapacitated. Thompson’s representatives brought a medical malpractice action against the physicians for negligence in inserting the tube and against WHC for its failure to provide the anesthesiologists with a monitor that provided early detection of insufficient oxygen being delivered in time to prevent brain injury. At trial, Thompson’s expert witness, Dr. Steen, testified that the “emerging” national trend was for hospitals to use the monitors and that some facilities already used them. Steen also testified that several medical and scientific journals recommended, but did not mandate, the use of the monitors. WHC’s expert witness was the hospital’s chair of the anesthesiology department, Dr. Murray, who testified that he had requisitioned monitors to be used at WHC. Otherwise, Murray testified, the hospital would “fail to meet the national standard of care.” Murray further testified that at the time of Thompson’s surgery, there was no national standard of care regarding the use of the monitors. The jury found in favor of Thompson and awarded damages. WHC filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) claiming that Steen’s testimony had failed to cite statistics of the specific number of national hospitals using the monitors and failed to provide documentation mandating their use. The trial judge denied WHC’s motion for JNOV and WHC appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Farrell, J.)

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