A jury awarded a woman nearly $400,000 Thursday evening after it found Hanover Hospital failed to follow its standards in treating her.
The woman, Dorene Smith, was admitted to the hospital to have an ovarian cyst removed in May 1998. Smith's attorney's argued before York County Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh that, during the surgery, her bowel was perforated.
For seven days after the surgery, Smith's condition worsened, said her attorney, Donald L. Reihart.
Nurses failed to follow hospital procedures, Reihart said, that might have alerted doctors to a growing post-operative infection, even as she had difficulty breathing and was in excruciating pain.
Eventually, Smith was transferred to York Hospital in a coma, according to court documents. She remained in a coma for about a month and recovered only after another six months, according to court documents.
Smith's victory might be the first time a hospital has lost a corporate liability case, Reihart said.
"There was a systemic failure," Reihart said. "(Hanover Hospital) had policies and procedures in place that, if they had been followed, should have prevented this from happening."
Neither the hospital nor its attorneys returned calls seeking comment Friday.
Smith also did not return calls for comment Friday.
During the trial, Smith argued the hospital did not follow procedures for monitoring her body temperature, for alerting doctors to signs of hemorrhaging, or for recording the location, duration or severity of her pain.
Smith was awarded $396,474.50 -- $196,474.50 of which will go to pay medical expenses. With interest, Reihart said, the award could potentially rise to $500,000.
Reihart said plaintiffs rarely win these type of cases because juries often consider medical workers infallible. They ignore studies, such as one done in 2000, that found medical error to be the eighth leading cause of death in the United States.
"Jurors have the impression that it's not right to hold doctors and hospitals accountable," Reihart said. "If you don't hold doctors and hospitals accountable, it doesn't have the effect of doing good things for them. It keeps them sloppy."
The Pennsylvania Department of Health inspects hospitals during routine license reviews or after a hospital or patient reports an event or complaint, said spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman .
She could not say if Dorene Smith's treatment in 1998 resulted in either a complaint or an inspection.
If an inspection reveals a problem, Kriedeman said, a hospital will need to develop a plan of correction.
Depending on the details and the particular hospital's history, the hospital could be fined, or have its license limited, made provisional or revoked, Kriedeman said.