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Gloucester County

This was a case in which the plaintiff, at the time a pediatric nurse in the employ of a non-party hospital, contended that as she was placing a ________-________ lb. isolette containing a critically ill premature infant into an ambulance with a co-worker for transfer from the defendant hospital to her employer’s facility in Phila., her foot fell into an approximate three-inch wide gap created by wooden bumpers situated at the end of the dock at which the ambulance was parked. The plaintiff, who was entering the ambulance with the co-worker, contended that she was able to maintain her grasp on the isolette, but sustained a probable herniated lumbar disc and fractures to two lumbar transverse processes. The plaintiff maintained that the injuries will permanently preclude her from continuing as a pediatric nurse.

The liability trial was heard in ________ and involved issues of a dangerous condition at the loading area involving the allegedly dangerous gap and resulted in a finding of 85% negligence on the part of the defendant hospital and 15% comparative negligence on the part of the plaintiff. A mistrial was declared on the first day of the initial damages trial and this damages only trial subsequently took place in Dec., ________.

The plaintiff’s initially treating orthopedist, who has since retired from practice, contended that the clinical signs of radiating pain and weakness prompted an initial provisional diagnosis of a herniated lumbar disc upon discharge from the first hospitalization, which lasted three weeks and during which, the plaintiff underwent traction. The physician also contended that the x-rays revealed two fractures to lumbar transverse processes. The defendant denied that the x-rays revealed the fractures. The defendant also denied the plaintiff had suffered a herniated disc and pointed to the discharge summary prepared by the plaintiff’s initial orthopedist after a subsequent hospitalization in which the physician referred to soft tissue sprains as her diagnosis. The plaintiff’s orthopedist related that the plaintiff had undergone a myelogram which showed some non-specific abnormalities, but that the CT scan which was taken during the hospitalization did not confirm such abnormalities.

The plaintiff’s physician contended that without conclusive results, she felt constrained to place the more conservative diagnosis in the records notwithstanding her belief that the plaintiff had, in fact, suffered some disc pathology.

The plaintiff also underwent traction during this approximate two week hospitalization that took place approximately one year after the incident. The plaintiff’s physician contended that a subsequently taken MRI had, under her interpretation, revealed an unusual herniation in which the disc material was protruding downward into the vertebra, causing severe pain, and the expert testified at trial that it was probable that the plaintiff had suffered a herniated disc. The physician testified that because of the absence of a conclusive diagnostic test result, however, the plaintiff cannot undergo surgery.

The defendant denied that the plaintiff’s contentions should be accepted and maintained that such finding of a herniation was not reflected in the MRI report. The defendant also contended that the alleged herniation was simply a degenerative anomaly which was unrelated to the accident. The plaintiff’s physician countered that such a herniation was unusual and that she only observed it upon very careful scrutiny prior to trial. The defendant’s orthopedist contended that the injuries were soft tissue in nature only. The plaintiff countered that the defendant’s orthopedist, who examined her approximately two months before trial, could not dispute that she had exhibited tightness upon extension and the plaintiff argued that objective signs of injury were found. The plaintiff argued that since such allegedly objective signs were found more than seven years post- accident, it was clear that the plaintiff suffered severe injuries irrespective of the question of disc involvement.

The evidence revealed that the plaintiff had difficulties as a child because one leg was growing more rapidly than the other, necessitating 3-4 surgeries, and the defendant contended that any back difficulties were related to the stresses placed on the back associated with this condition. The plaintiff countered through a co-worker and her former supervisor who maintained that prior to the incident, the plaintiff was an excellent and energetic worker. The plaintiff also contended that she had no prior significant lower back symptoms.

The plaintiff’s vocational expert and the plaintiff’s subsequent treating orthopedist each contended that the plaintiff will be permanently precluded from lifting more than ten lbs. The plaintiff contended that because of the weight of equipment and because she has difficulties moving about rapidly, which would be necessary upon an emergency, she has been unable to work as a pediatric nurse. The plaintiff related that she has taken an inventory-type clerical position with a hospital at a loss of $________ per year in income and the plaintiff introduced approximately $________ in after-tax losses. The plaintiff’s economist projected future lost wages and the losses relating to the replacement value of household services occasioned by the lifting restrictions, from which the jury could infer approximately $________-$________ in future losses. The plaintiff also introduced approximately $________ in past medical costs.

The defendant established that the plaintiff was subsequently diagnosed with an unrelated, congenital dislocation to the patella which required surgery and the defendant contended that this condition would prevent her from working as a nurse irrespective of the alleged back injuries. The plaintiff countered that although the defendant’s orthopedist had noted the dislocation to the patella during his recent exam, he had also determined that the knee itself was stable and the plaintiff’s vocational expert contended that the knee difficulties would not have prevented her from continuing to work as a pediatric nurse.

The plaintiff also contended that because of her medical history as a child, she had greatly enjoyed helping children and that the inability to continue this satisfying position deprived her of such satisfaction. The jury awarded $________. Plaintiff’s initially treating orthopedist: Mary Powell from Villanova, Pa.

Plaintiff’s vocational expert: Donald Jennings from Jenkintown, Pa. Plaintiff’s actuary: David Bunin from Phila. Defendant’s expert orthopedist: Burton W. Pearl from Voorhees. Glowacki vs.

Underwood. Docket no. L-________-86; Judge John S. Holston, Jr., 12-17-91. Attorney for plaintiff: Theresa C. Grabowski of Weinberg & McCormick in Haddonfield; Attorney for defendant: Thomas M. Walsh of Parker, McCay & Criscuolo in Marlton.

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