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Huff v. Condell Memorial Hospital

MARCH 20, 1972.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. FRANK P. HANAGAN, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Charles U. Culmer, M.D., appeals from judgment entered against him on jury's verdict of $50,000. The jury returned a verdict in favor of two other defendants.

The complaint alleges that negligence and malpractice by Defendant Culmer aggravated plaintiff's injuries sustained in an accident which caused him to be hospitalized at Condell Memorial Hospital. Dr. Culmer was the attending physician.

Appellant assigns as error first the trial court's refusal to direct a verdict for defendant or enter judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

The facts of the accident are not in dispute.

The plaintiff on July 15, 1964, in diving hit the bottom experiencing pain. He was pulled from the water and taken to the beach having then no feeling and being completely paralyzed. He was placed on a stretcher, put in an ambulance and taken to Condell Memorial Hospital. On the way he suddenly regained feeling in both legs and his left arm. On arriving at the hospital he had severe pain in his neck and right arm, being able to move his right arm very little and his right hand somewhat. There was no evidence of injury to the head and there had been no loss of consciousness.

Dr. Culmer first saw plaintiff the evening of July 15. He examined plaintiff in his hospital bed and found: plaintiff complained of neck pain; was able to move lower and left upper extremities; no paralysis; normal pupils; abrasions on right forearm; heart normal; lungs clear; some splinting of the abdomen. As to the right arm Dr. Culmer found difficulty in moving it, weakened wrist, decreased motions of fingers and thumb, and no gross loss of sensation.

Dr. Culmer then examined x-rays taken of plaintiff, AP and lateral views. The AP view showed the 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae from which Dr. Culmer saw no fractures. The lateral views did not show C6 or C7. The following morning he talked with Dr. Audrey Wilson, the radiologist for Condell Hospital. She told defendant they were normal looking x-rays, and she testified that the films were adequate for a diagnosis of the area they showed, that they did not show the lateral 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae and were not adequate to make a diagnosis of them. She also stated that additional lateral x-rays were not taken on the 15th to show C6 and C7 because the technician was not going to jeopardize plaintiff at that time, since he had been paraplegic. Dr. Culmer's working diagnosis included a possible fracture of some vertebrae. He ordered absolute bed rest, small pad beneath the neck and sandbags to the sides of the head.

Dr. Culmer testified he was reluctant to order additional x-rays due to plaintiff's condition, for fear of causing motion of the cervical spine and ultimate damage to either the spinal cord or the roots, in addition to the problem of paralytic ileus.

Whereas plaintiff could not move his right hand, finger and arm on the 15th, the following day he could do so slightly. On the 17th because of plaintiff vomiting Dr. Culmer ordered plaintiff may be turned freely, however, he complained of pain in his neck and right arm when moved. On the same day the nurses sat plaintiff twice in an upright position but not on Dr. Culmer's orders. On the 19th he ordered "Ambulate". Plaintiff that day stood up with much help, he became very dizzy, was taken to the toilet several times and went for a walk three times. On the 20th he walked with assistance three times. Plaintiff, however, testified that he walked many more times than the record showed.

On the 21st and 23rd additional x-rays were taken, those of the 21st revealing comminuted fracture of the right lamina of C6, and those of the 23rd a linear fracture of the body of C6. Ambulation was stopped on the 21st.

Dr. E. William Immerman, orthopedic surgeon, was called by plaintiff. He had x-rays taken and carried out an orthopedic, neurological examination of plaintiff. He was given a comprehensive statement of hypothetical facts and gave a number of opinions based thereon and upon a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

On cross-examination by counsel for one of the other defendants he testified that it was his opinion that the severe injury, the fractures that existed were aggravated or produced additional findings after plaintiff was ambulatory. He stated that the entire condition which he found in plaintiff's left leg, was initiated by ambulation, although he could not give any opinion in specific degrees. Dr. Immerman also testified that the findings in the hypothetical question with reference to plaintiff's left leg would have had their onset on July 19, due to ambulation involving the entire extremity.

Appellant urges that the evidence fails to provide proof of any aggravation upon which a ...

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