Attorney Sean Cronin of Cronin & Maxwell in Jacksonville has filed a nightmare-inducing medical malpractice lawsuit against the Naval Hospital Jacksonville. The allegation in the suit is that the hospital covered up a medical error 15 years ago when they left three centimeters of a broken needle inside the spine of a woman delivering a baby at the facility.
When Amy Bright delivered her son on September 5, 2003, she had a cesarean section like many women before her. She chose to have spinal anesthesia to help with the pain rather than general anesthesia, which renders a patient unconscious. According to Cronin, this procedure, which normally takes just a few minutes, lengthened to about 40 minutes as one-third to one-half of the needle broke off and lodged itself in Bright’s spine.
The suit alleges that hospital staff never told Bright about the incident and then covered up the incident. Bright’s medical records from the day of her son’s delivery do not mention the needle breaking off and partially remaining in her spine, but it does note that the anesthesia did not take.
Medical malpractice suits account for 15% of all personal injury cases, making them the second most common type only after motor vehicle accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. According to Cronin, this case clearly falls under medical malpractice because any reasonable professional administering the anesthesia would have been able to see that a large portion of the needle was missing. Spinal needles are typically between seven and nine centimeters long, making a missing three-centimeter portion rather noticeable.
The medical malpractice suit is further justified by the years of leg and back problems Bright suffered. Last year, Bright got a CAT scan to investigate the leg and back pain she had been suffering from for years since the birth of her son. That scan revealed the needle lodged in her L4 vertebra. Bright has consulted with three neurosurgeons about removing the needle, but they have concluded that removing it now leaves a high risk for further permanent damage, including paralysis. The needle would have had to be removed in a small window of days after the delivery of her son in 2003.
In the 15 years since the needle was left in her spine, Bright has seen various doctors about her chronic pain. They all told her that the pain was a symptom of aging. She was diagnosed with back pain and radiculopathy, otherwise known as a pinched nerve, and prescribed pain medication.
According to Cronin, the doctors she saw in this period would have never thought to look for a needle in her spine, as it is such an unusual case. Unlike a more common illness, like the one in six Americans who get sick from consuming contaminated foods or beverages every year, this case is singular and did not have a simple diagnosis.
According to spinal health and back pain experts, nearly one half of working Americans suffers from back pain in a given year. Worldwide, chronic pain affects an estimated 1.5 billion people.
Cronin filed the suit in March of 2018, but he says that it could take years for the lawsuit to be settled. While the Navy is claiming that too much time has passed since the incident, Cronin is arguing that the beginning time period for the statute of limitations didn’t begin until Bright was made aware of the injury. He plans to appeal should the court rule against their claim.