Legal Review & Commentary

Infant’s IV results in $300,000 GA verdict

By Mark K. Delegal, Esq., and Jan Gorrie, Esq.
Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar, PA
Tallahassee, FL

News: A 6-week-old infant was admitted to the hospital with severe dehydration. He was placed on IV fluids and received a blood transfusion through the same line. After his mother complained of the child’s unmerited crying, the line was finally checked. As it turned out, IV fluids had infiltrated the child’s muscle and hand. This resulted in permanent muscle damage and scarring. A Georgia jury returned a verdict of $300,000 in favor of the patient and his mother.

Background: The infant was taken to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital for severe dehydration. Throughout the night, he received fluids intravenously. Approximately 16 hours after admission, he was given a blood transfusion through the same line. One hour later, his mother called for the nurse because her son was crying for no apparent reason. The nurse removed the tape surrounding the IV line and discovered that the IV fluids had infiltrated the tissue in the child’s hand. The infiltration resulted in permanent damage to the child’s left hand and wrist.

The plaintiffs alleged that the hospital staff had improperly placed and monitored the child’s IV line. The defendant hospital countered that the line was properly monitored and that when the IV pump alarm sounded staff responded appropriately.

The jury awarded the plaintiffs $300,000.

What this means to you: "Pediatric patients pose a different issue in that, depending on their age, children can’t tell us where or how it hurts, and so practitioners must rely on the parents to assist in making those determinations," says Leilani Kicklighter, assistant administrator, safety and risk management, North Broward Hospital District, Fort Lauderdale, FL. "Parents’ assessments may be critical in providing care to pediatric patients. The amount of infiltrated fluid in a child’s tissues that can potentially cause a slough or other significant damage compared to an adult is much less. Also, the reaction to a chemical irritation from the medications in a pediatric patient might be more pronounced due to the tenderness of the child’s skin and tissue. In all aspects of pediatric IV therapy, these concepts must be kept in the forefront of the mind of the patient care staff and should be components of an IV educational program where pediatric patients are involved.

"In each of these cases, the patients [or parents] attempted to communicate their discomfort to the attending practitioners, and each time they were ignored. Each of the patients tried to warn the providers that something was wrong, but they were dismissed. Not enough can be said for the need to adequately train and educate health care providers regarding IV placement, monitoring, and medications and documentation of what they are doing. However, some errors can be mitigated through simply listening and hearing what your patients are saying," concludes Kicklighter.

Safaris and Tash Lewis v. Phoebe Putnam Memorial Hospital, Dougherty County (GA) Superior Court, Case No. 97-S.V.-417.