Port Angeles carpenter John Pluard, 56, lost use of his left hand after a first-year resident at Harborview Medical Center allegedly failed to treat a serious complication in a timely fashion. Jurors awarded $1.5 million.
A Port Angeles carpenter who lost the use of his left hand after a Harborview Medical Center resident allegedly failed to recognize and treat a serious complication has been awarded more than $1.5 million in a malpractice verdict.
John Pluard, now 56, received $1.3 million in economic and noneconomic damages and his wife, Lisa Pluard, 51, received $275,000 in noneconomic damages in the Monday verdict in King County Superior Court.
Officials with the University of Washington, which operates Harborview, disputed the decision.
“We believe our care was not negligent, but we respect the jury’s verdict,” spokeswoman Tina Mankowski said in a statement Tuesday.
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Pluard was 51 on Feb. 2, 2011, when he fell 16 feet from a scaffold onto concrete while working as a carpenter on the Olympic Peninsula, court documents show. He suffered fractures to his feet, left leg and left elbow and was airlifted from Port Angeles to Harborview Medical Center.
On the second night of his stay, he developed what was later diagnosed as compartment syndrome, a serious complication of trauma that occurs when pressure builds up in the soft tissue surrounding groups of organs or muscles. The pressure blocks blood flow to the area, leading to permanent injury to muscles and nerves. Amputation is sometimes required.
Trial evidence showed that a first-year orthopedic resident, Dr. Courtney O’ Donnell, working the overnight shift, did not respond when Pluard’s wife, Lisa, reported he had significantly increased pain, a key symptom of the problem.
The case alleged that Harborview was relying on first-year interns to provide overnight coverage, requiring them to work shifts of 24 hours or more while supervising the care of 20 to 60 patients at one time, which affected Pluard’s care.
Compartment syndrome must be treated within four to six hours to prevent permanent damage. Pluard’s wife told a nurse about her husband’s increased pain at 7:45 p.m. Feb. 3, documents state. O’Donnell was notified at 8:45 p.m. She examined Pluard at 2:24 a.m., then saw him again at 6 a.m., without diagnosing the problem.
By the time Pluard was taken to surgery at 7 a.m. to relieve the pressure, it was too late. Although his hand was not amputated, he lost all function as a result of the delayed diagnosis of compartment syndrome, court documents stated.
Jurors found that O’Donnell had commited malpractice by failing to respond to Pluard’s complaints and that the delay caused significant injury to his left hand. Consequently, they found that Harborview was negligent and failed to meet the standard of practice.
The lawsuit alleged that the University of Washington failed to properly supervise and train first-year residents in its orthopedic trauma service.
In a statement issued Monday, UW officials rejected those conclusions.
“We are very sorry for this patient’s injury caused by a fall at his workplace and do not believe the resident’s work hours were a factor in his care,” Mankowski said in an email. “The resident was working as part of a team and was working within the allowed hours at the time of his care. Mr. Pluard had an unusual presentation which made diagnosis extremely difficult.”
Pluard can no longer work or enjoy rigorous outdoor activities, said Nathan Roberts, a lawyer for Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma who represented him. Lisa Pluard works at a bank in Port Angeles.
“The clients are very happy with the verdict and feel that justice has been served,” Roberts said. “Their primary goal was drawing attention to the patient-safety issues in the case, with a goal of preventing future injuries and deaths.”
O’Donnell is now on staff at Children’s Hospital Colorado, a hospital website shows.