Woman wins $2.4M settlement after her arm was crushed in OR during unrelated procedure

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published April 3, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A jury ruled in favor of a woman whose arm was crushed between an exam table and a wall during an endoscopic procedure.

  • The woman has been diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome as a result of the incident.

  • The medical center admitted fault for the injury but has denied the extent of the damage

A jury awarded $2.4 million to a woman from Frenchville, ME, in a case against Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. The five-day trial centered on an endoscopic procedure that the plaintiff, 67-year-old Lousie Brown, underwent in February 2019. According to the lawsuit, Brown’s arm was crushed by the exam table while she was under anesthesia, resulting in significant injury.[][] 

Brown was reportedly repositioned to make her more comfortable during the endoscopy procedure. The repositioning caused her arm to become pinned between the table and the base. During the trial, the nurse anesthetist who administered anesthesia during the procedure stated that Brown’s arm placement was not visible because of the structure of the room. After the procedure, Brown’s arm had bruising and cuts. In the years since the incident, her injured arm has reportedly started to atrophy.[]

Brown filed a civil suit against Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and Stacy Bruckler, CRNA, the nurse anesthetist for her procedure. Bruckler was a traveling provider in 2019 and was not employed by Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. The medical center has not denied fault for Brown’s injury but has rejected the $10 million damages sum initially asked for. The center has also denied liability for Bruckler’s actions, as Bruckler was not their employee. Brown’s legal team, as well as legal representatives for both Bruckler and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, failed to settle.[][] 

The five-day trial began on March 25, 2024. The jury saw pictures of Brown’s injury and heard testimony about the day of her endoscopic procedure. Multiple witnesses testified, including Brown’s current doctors, who told the jury about her diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome and her difficulties using the affected arm. []

The defense team for Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center argued that the extent of Brown’s ongoing pain and suffering was “disproportionate to the event that caused the injury.” A private investigator acting for the defense provided evidence of Brown using her affected arm to open a car door. Lawyers for the medical center asked the jury to award Brown $126,184 in damages.[] 

After closing arguments on March 29, 2024, the jury awarded Brown $2.4 million in damages and ruled that Bruckler was not liable for Brown’s injuries.[] 

Malpractice and complex regional pain syndrome

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a rare diagnosis, affecting an estimated five to 26 per 100,00 people per year in the US. People diagnosed with the condition experience chronic, severe pain that is typically linked to nerve damage. It’s common for the exact cause of CRPS to be unidentifiable; however, the condition is often associated with injuries, accidents, surgeries, and other traumas. As a result, diagnosis of the condition can lead to lawsuits, including medical malpractice suits.[]

CRPS is unpredictable. As is true of many chronic pain conditions, CRPS’s symptoms can be nonspecific, and there is no diagnostic test for identifying the condition. It is also controversial. It’s been argued that the condition does not exist, is misnamed, is over-diagnosed, or is better described as a mental health condition. In fact, symptoms of CRPS are sometimes attributed to malingering or somatization. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that mental health conditions are more common among people with CRPS than among those with any other chronic pain condition.[][]

The development of CRPS after injury has been linked to local inflammatory reactions, central pain processing, sympathetic nervous system dysfunction, direct small fiber nerve injury, and emotional responses to pain stimuli. Possible connections to autoimmune processes and genetic factors have also been suggested, but further studies are needed to confirm these factors.[]   

In a study of medical malpractice cases stemming from CRPS, over half of all cases were partially ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The study found that there was also evidence of medical negligence or error in these cases. The presence of a CRPS diagnosis alone was not found to be the determining factor in these cases. However, the study’s authors wrote that physicians should be aware of the possibility of CRPS and make an effort to avoid injuries to the nervous system:[]

Physicians cannot be exempted from liability for intractable diseases of unknown origin. Nerve injury is the most common reason for liability in medical malpractice lawsuits related to the occurrence of the CRPS. Physicians must be careful of the possibility of the occurrence of this complication in every case in medical practice, including surgery, and recognize areas where practice and training can be improved, as well as the steps to be taken to prevent injury.

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