$10 Million Judgment Affirmed Against Springhill Medical Center for Death After Thumb Surgery

On August 4, 2023, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a $10 million judgment on a Mobile County jury’s verdict for the family of a man who died at Springhill Medical Center following a successful surgery to repair a cut on his thumb. This is the largest amount ever affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court for a single wrongful death.

On June 14, 2014, while using a table saw at his cabinet shop, Jay West cut the tip of his left thumb. He drove to Springhill Medical Center where his thumb was surgically repaired. Following that successful 20-minute surgery without any complications, the surgeon wrote an order for Percocet for pain, and another order for up to four milligrams of IV Dilaudid (a powerful opioid) if the Percocet failed to control the pain. He was transferred to the hospital’s orthopedic floor for the night and scheduled to go home the next day. However, less than 10 hours after surgery, Mr. West was found unresponsive and not breathing in his hospital room and could not be resuscitated.

Twenty-two months prior to his admission, the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) published a “Sentinel Event Alert,” regarding the safe use of opioids in hospitals. Based on the recommendations set out in the Sentinel Event Alert, Mr. West should have been identified by hospital personnel as being at high-risk for opioid-induced respiratory depression, should have received serial respiratory monitoring, and should have been provided with continuous electronic monitoring of his oxygen saturation levels. Springhill did not implement any of those safety measures. Nor did the hospital provide any training to its nursing staff on how to protect its patients from the known fatal dangers of opioid-induced respiratory depression.

Prior to being found unresponsive, Mr. West had been given four milligrams of IV Dilaudid by his nurse. Less than two hours later, she administered an additional four milligrams of the drug. After the second dose, Mr. West was not monitored by any of the nursing staff. He was later found unresponsive.

Dilaudid carries an FDA-mandated “Black Box Warning,” due to its potentially deadly side effect of causing respiratory depression and cardiopulmonary arrest. Dr. Kenneth Rothfield, expert witness, testified at trial about the dosage administered “Well, if you were planning on killing somebody, that would be a dose that would be expected to do the job.”

The nine justices of the Alabama Supreme Court unanimously agreed that Springhill’s conduct breached the requirements of the standard of care.

"Mrs. West deeply values the dedication and bravery demonstrated by every juror involved in the case. She expresses her heartfelt gratitude for the Alabama Supreme Court's affirmance of the Mobile County Circuit Court's rulings. After a nine-year journey, justice has at last been served for her husband's tragic and entirely avoidable death," said Brian Duncan of Cunningham Bounds, who represented the family along with his law partners Robert Mitchell and David Wirtes.

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