Woman spent remaining life in wheelchair, nursing facilities after nurse failed to alert physician to condition; Verdict record for its type
KENT, Wash., July 23 /PRNewswire/ -- A King County Superior Court jury awarded the estate of a Renton woman more than $1.8 million yesterday for a medical center's failure to alert her physician of a critical complication that developed after routine back surgery.
The jury concluded the actions of Renton, Washington's Valley Medical Center and its staff caused Ellen Sandbo partial paralysis and a host of debilitating conditions, which forced her move into a nursing facility, where she remained until just before her death on April 29, 2009.
Ellen Sandbo went to Valley Medical Center on January 31, 2006 for a routine procedure to relieve lower-back pain. Sandbo showed immediate improvement after the late-morning operation, standing and walking across her hospital room that evening.
"She told her family and her doctor that her legs felt better than they had felt in years," said Robert Gellatly, a partner with The Luvera Law Firm, who represented Sandbo and her family. "She and her doctor were very pleased with the results of the surgery."
According to court testimony, though, Sandbo - a former nurse for more than 50 years - began experiencing severe pain in her legs later that evening, and repeatedly asked the nurse to call her doctor.
Fran Klepach, Sandbo's sister, testified in court she remembered her then-87-year-old sibling's alarm at the rapid onset of severe pain, telling the hospital staff "I am a nurse - call my doctor."
According to Gellatly, Sandbo repeatedly begged the nurse to call her doctor, but the nurse ignored her pleas, instead giving her pain medication and suggesting that it was simply a leg spasm.
Sandbo then developed incontinence, a sign of neurologic damage, according to testimony.
During rounds the next morning, Sandbo's surgeon, Dr. Jason Thompson, was alarmed at Sandbo's condition. Thompson testified in court he could see "panic in her eyes" and immediately ordered an emergency CT scan, which revealed a massive blood clot in her back, putting pressure on her spinal nerves.
"The hospital's nursing staff did not alert Dr. Thompson that Ellen was in trouble, depriving him of the opportunity to help Ellen," Gellatly noted.
Gellatly noted the hospital would not give Thompson access to an operating room until 3 p.m., which contributed to her permanent damages. "Valley Medical Center and its staff failed Ellen Sandbo, and failed Doctor Thompson in his efforts to help his patient," Gellatly added.
Thompson said in court testimony that he asked the nurse why he wasn't called at the onset of Sandbo's pain and the nurse admitted the error, saying "I should have called" -- a statement the nurse later denied making.
Sandbo spent the next three months in a skilled nursing facility before being sent to an adult family home, and then died on April 29, 2009 from what her family believes were complications of her paralysis.
The jury took just four and a half hours to reach the unanimous verdict and awarded $1.8 million to Sandbo's estate after determining Valley Medical Center's negligence. The award is among the highest in the state's history for a woman of Sandbo's age.
Stephen Sandbo, Ellen's son, said his mother sued Valley only after the hospital refused to accept accountability and responsibility, choosing instead to say that his mother lied about asking for her physician on the evening of January 31.
"They just stonewalled us at every turn, showing no concern for my mother or her situation," said Sandbo. "They dismissed her as an old lady with exaggerated complaints, but the jury told the hospital that the elderly deserves the same level of care as everyone else."
"I have been involved in many cases against hospitals and can say that Valley went to extraordinary lengths to avoid its responsibility in Ellen's case," Gellatly added. "The family wanted an explanation and help to pay for their mom's nursing-home care and Valley offered indifference and callous disregard."
Gellatly noted just one of Valley's expert witnesses cost Valley more than $90,000 in its attempt to avoid accountability.
The jury heard stories about the highly independent, vivacious Sandbo, a life-long Renton resident and nurse with Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the U. S. Air Force. She is survived by her son, and six grandchildren.
"She was not just a little old lady with exaggerated complaints, and the hospital should have taken care of her," said Gellatly. "We hope this will send a message that the elderly should get the same level of care."
About The Luvera Law Firm
The Luvera Law Firm is a nationally recognized firm representing clients in medical malpractice cases such as those involving serious injury or death caused by the misdeeds of others. The firm works to find truth and accountability for its clients and seeks to create positive change in corporate and government behavior. The firm has provided its clients record-breaking verdicts and settlements across the Northwest.
Media CONTACT: Mark Firmani -- 206-443-9347 / [email protected]
SOURCE The Luvera Law Firm