$3,350,000 • Medical Negligence

A Hackensack woman suffering a head injury in an automobile accident accepted $3,350,000 in settlement from an emergency department physician at Hackensack University Medical Center for failure to diagnose a subdural hematoma.

Anna LaMarche was a passenger in a automobile that was struck by a vehicle that ran a red light. In the impact she struck her forehead on the inside of the automobile and fractured her clavicle. After being brought by ambulance to HUMC emergency department, she was treated for a laceration on her forehead and the clavicle fracture, and discharged without head injury instructions or a CAT scan of the head.

Upon discharge she experienced symptoms that were, unbeknownst to her, indicative of a serious head injury. Thirty-six hours later, at her home, she was discovered unresponsive by her daughter. Upon return to HUMC, bilateral subdural hematomae were discovered on a CAT scan. Emergency brain surgery was performed, but not before LaMarche sustained significant brain injury, reports Daniel J. Pomeroy of Mortenson and Pomeroy and Michael J. Maggiano of Maggiano Digirolomo and Lizzi, who served as co-counsel for plaintiff.

Mrs LaMarche, as a result of the delayed diagnosis, required prolonged rehabilitation and cognitive therapy, and presently ambulates with the assistance of a walker. The settlement was reached after a series of conferences that were convened before the Honorable Rachel Harz.

HUMC and the emergency room physician were represented by Rowena Duran of Duran and Pandos, who confirmed that the settlement took place.

At issue was the applicable standard of care for a CAT scan. The plaintiff contended that a patient over the age of 65 years with head and facial trauma, notwithstanding no evidence of loss of consiousness, warranted a CAT scan and head injury instructions upon discharge at the very least. The defense argued that no history of loss of consciousness was presented, no symptoms of concussion were demonstrated in the ER and the facial injuries were mild soft tissue requiring suturing.

During discovery, plaintiff’s counsel insisted that plaintiff’s deposition be videotaped to record the manner in which she responded to questions, particularly her speech pattern, fluidity and pronunciation, as well as overall physical appearance. The defense refused, contending it had the sole right to determine how its deposition was to be conducted.

Judge Rachel Harz ruled in favor of plaintiff, considered the issue presented novel for New Jersey and submitted a written decision that was the subject of an article in the New Jersey Law Journal. Defendant also moved to amend its Answer and Defenses to include a seat belt defense. This was denied by the court as having no legal causation in the failure to adequately treat a closed head Injury. The court noted that although the issue may have been relevant to fault in the auto accident litigation that was settled prior to the initiation of the medical negligence case, it was not relevant here.