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Jury awards $10.8 million in MRI contrast anaphylaxis brain injury case

Hospital, radiologist found negligent for unprepared, bungled emergency response

It’s hard to imagine that having a CT or MRI scan with contrast could cause a patient to die or have a disabling injury.

Sure, there has been concerns that have been reported and discussed about the long-term additive effect of radiation exposure from CT scans. However, that’s not what I’m referencing, though.

I’m talking about going in for a diagnostic radiology scan and having a permanent brain injury or being deceased just an hour later.

This is exactly what can happen when a hospital or imaging facilities offers CT or MRI scans with contrast but isn’t prepared to handle an emergency.

Some radiographic scans are performed without contrast, meaning that the patient isn’t given contrast media to swallow or by an intravenous (IV) line. Other scans, though, require administration of contrast media.

CT contrast media contains iodine. MRI contrast media contains gadolinium. Some people have severe allergic or anaphylactic reactions to contrast media, which can lead to a cascade of physiological responses that cuts off the airway and causes cardiac arrest. If there’s not an immediate emergency response—typically starting with the administration of epinephrine—then the patient could end up with a permanent brain injury or even dying.

We’re currently handling a case in Dallas, Texas, where man in his 50s had a severe anaphylactic reaction to CT contrast media given to him at a freestanding imaging center called Gateway Mid-Cities. The lawsuit petition alleges that the facility was wholly unprepared for an emergency of this nature. The man died within an hour after being taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Strangely, the medical records from Gateway didn’t even mention the anaphylactic reaction, any emergency medical treatment, the fact that 911 was called and the patient was transferred away, or the fact that the patient died.

Recently, a Pennsylvania case went to a jury trial involving a man in his 40s who developed a permanent brain injury after he had a severe reaction to the gadolinium-containing contrast media for an MRI scan at a hospital.

According to testimony at the trial, when the MRI technologist recognize that the patient was having an adverse reaction to the gadolinium contrast, she had to leave the room and go to a control center to activate an alarm. The MRI procedure room didn’t have an alarm or an emergency drug box with the anti-allergy medication epinephrine.

After sounding the alarm of the control center, the tech yelled in the hallway for help. A nearby supervising radiologist responded and, after seeing the patient in the MRI room, ran off to the emergency room (ER) to summon help from an ER physician.

The trial testimony was that when the radiologist got to the ER, he found the ER doctor standing on a chair looking into the ceiling to try to figure out the source of the sound, which was actually the radiology alarm.

The jury found that both the hospital and the supervising radiologist were negligent and caused the patient’s permanent brain injury. The jury apportioned responsibility for the negligence at 75% to the hospital and 25% to the radiologist.

The jury’s verdict was $10.8 million. Out of that amount, $6.2 million will be used to fund the 24/7, round-the-clock care that the patient will require because of his brain injury. The balance was allocated to past medical bills, past and future lost earnings, and the profound pain and suffering and mental anguish that the patient and his family experience because of this avoidable tragedy.

The standard of care requires hospitals and freestanding imaging centers to be prepared to handle emergencies. This includes ensuring adequate staffing of a supervising radiologist or physician to respond to anaphylactic reactions or other medical emergencies involving administration of radiographic contrast media.

Additionally, the standard of care requires emergency supplies, such as the life-saving medication epinephrine, to be immediately available for administration.

The Pennsylvania jury ultimately agreed with the testimony from the plaintiffs’ medical expert that there’s no time to waste in an emergency. As the plaintiffs’ attorney put it in closing argument, “They wasted precious time.”

When a patient isn’t breathing properly and the body is shutting down because of an anaphylactic reaction, there is no time for the radiology technologist to leave the room to summon an physician’s help, or for that doctor to run to the emergency room to find someone else who can provide help.

Anaphylactic reactions are a known complication that could occur any time a patient receives MRI or CT contrast media, so there’s no excuse when a hospital or imaging center isn’t prepared.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor medical care in Texas, then contact an experienced, top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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