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$8,300,000 Jury awards to patient who suffered brain damage

Feb 24, 2006 | $8,300,000.

That's the amount of money a jury here in Superior Court Thursday awarded the family of a woman who was 56 years old when she suffered permanent brain damage as a patient at South Jersey Hospital-Newcomb.

Sandy Terris, of Vineland, incapacitated physically by a car accident four days before being admitted to Newcomb in May 1999, showed only some slurred speech and disorientation before she was admitted.

Terris, who had been experiencing nausea and dehydration when she was admitted on May 27, 1999, has a past medical history including Type 1 diabetes.

Complaining of pain caused by complications from the diabetes and the effects of the car crash, Terris was given a recommended 4 mg dose of Dilaudid two times over a 12-hour period.

A nurse never recorded the first dose administered around noon.

After Terris went unconscious that afternoon, physicians failed to link the reaction with the medication because it wasn't recorded.

When she got the second dose, she went into cardiac arrest.

Soon after, Terris slipped into a coma.

Five years of rehabilitation have not been enough to restore the woman to her former self.

Terris remains a patient at the Genesis Center, a nursing home in Millville.

Her husband, Elliot Terris, said Thursday he holds no ill will toward the hospital.

"I'm just glad it's over," he said. "I have no malice toward the doctors and the nurses. It was a mistake and I hope they don't make it again."

According to Terris' attorney, the mistakes made by Newcomb's staff were numerous.

A Hamilton physician hired by the lawyer to evaluate the procedures used in treating Terris said physicians "deviated from accepted standards of nursing care in several ways.

"Neither Nurse (Mary Ann) Harris nor Nurse (Christine) Roller questioned an excessively large dose of a potent narcotic analgesic," Kathleen Ashton wrote in her evaluation. "The recommended adult dose of Dilaudid is 1.5 mg. After administration of the medication ... the nurses caring for Ms. Terris failed to closely monitor their patient's level of consciousness."

The appropriateness of the dosage was subject to debate during the trial.

Dr. Allan Cohen, who prescribed the medication, testified 4 mg was a normal dosage.

What was more difficult to debate was Roller's failure to document the first dose of Dilaudid until after the second was administered, Cohan said.

"After the noon dose, the physical therapist was unable to wake Ms. Terris," he stated. "Because no one knew there was a noon dose given, they never made the connection. That was a warning. That was a red light flashing. Had they made that connection, they would have not given her the midnight dose."

Cohan added that the hospital failed to react when the physical therapist couldn't arouse the patient.

"Also, throughout the day, her blood sugar was rising," he said. "She wasn't eating well. Nothing was done about that. When you give a potent narcotic to a dehydrated patient, this can be the result."

After Terris slipped into a coma, the hospital did not give her the antidote Narcan.

Maybe they didn't make the connection between the Dilaudid and Terris' physical state, according to Cohan.

But even if they had administered the drug, it may have been too late, he added.

"There was no way that anyone could know how long she was not breathing," Cohan explained. "We were unable to say whether the Narcan would have made a difference."

Prior to Thursday, an automobile accident settlement of $300,000 awarded last month was said to be one the largest jury payouts in Cumberland County in years.

The $8.3 million awarded this week will not be footed by South Jersey Healthcare, which was not found liable for the incident.

Jurors found Cohen 70 percent responsible for Terris' disability with Roller 30 percent responsible.

"The jury probably felt since Cohen was the attending physician, he was in charge," Cohan said.

Both individuals are covered by malpractice insurance through South Jersey Healthcare.

There's still a battle to be won against the insurance companies, Elliot Terris said.

"I paid a lot in medical bills, but this isn't going to solve the problem," he said. "We won something, but now we have to fight."

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