Diagnostic Error: Failure to Order Arterial Ultrasound; $5M Awarded for Amputation

February 1, 2014 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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A Georgia court of appeals upheld a jury's determination that a physician assistant, an emergency physician, and their employer were liable to a patient for ordinary and gross negligence for failure to provide proper care in a hospital emergency department (ED), awarding $5 million in damages to compensate the patient for a double amputation. The plaintiff alleged that the physician assistant, who examined and assessed the patient in the ED, failed to order an arterial ultrasound or any other diagnostic testing to determine whether the diminished pulse he detected in the plaintiff's feet was caused by a partial arterial blockage. The physician assistant ordered a venous ultrasound to rule out the possibility of deep venous thrombosis and treated the patient with morphine for pain and antibiotics for cellulitis based on an elevated white blood cell count and signs of redness and tenderness in her legs.

The plaintiff, who had a history of diabetes and hypertension, arrived in the ED by ambulance after experiencing coldness in her feet that worsened over a period of days, rendering her unable to walk. A triage assessment classified her as nonurgent, and she was assigned to an area of the...

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