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Urgent care center victim awarded $7.96 million

In an unusual case of medical negligence by a hospital-owned urgent care center, an Idaho man suffered a catastrophic spinal injury due to medical negligence. The malpractice incident by a local urgent care center's medical providers and their failure to follow protocol resulted in the man's paralysis from the waist down.

People who have potentially severe injuries may not be aware of the magnitude of their condition. Injuries can seem minor due to the initial absence of extreme pain; this, however, is not a reliable indicator of a serious medical condition. A better sign is the mechanism of injury, the degree and location of impact sustained by the body, and any pre-existing condition exacerbated by the additional trauma of a new accident.

Inappropriate use of urgent care facilities

Many people seek emergency medical treatment from urgent care centers across the country. In some cases, patients may be unaware of the role and limitations of an urgent care facility. Such people should have called for an ambulance for higher-level treatment and immediate transportation to a hospital emergency room. Unfortunately, people may also bypass appropriate treatment options due to the expense of an ambulance ride and a hospital emergency room visit. Instead, they elect to visit an urgent care facility—a more affordable option for uninsured or inadequately insured people with poor coverage for emergencies.

A disastrous accident

In 2014, a man in Idaho Falls, Idaho suddenly experienced back pain while lifting material at work. He had a history of cumulative spine damage over the years of his working life. The man called his wife, who drove him to a hospital-owned urgent care center. The hospital and its emergency room were directly across the street from the urgent care center, but the man did not realize he needed the hospital's higher-level treatment. The man correctly filled out the urgent care center's paperwork, noting his long-standing thoracic spine problems on the form under pre-existing conditions.

Directly ignoring their own treatment protocol, the urgent care center medical providers did not send the man to the hospital emergency room across the street. Instead, they moved him repeatedly and manipulated his body into awkward positions for X-rays. Even after the man was finally unable to stand up for yet another X-ray and could no longer walk because—as he told the medical providers—his legs were numb, the urgent care center staff continued to examine the patient in ways inappropriate and perilous considering his rapidly deteriorating condition.

Spinal cord paralysis due to medical negligence

Because of the urgent care center's inept handling of the patient in direct opposition to their treatment protocol for back pain, the man—who had suffered a serious herniated spinal disc injury in the lifting accident—was eventually rendered paralyzed by the urgent care center's ill-informed actions and rough handling. The man walked into the urgent care facility under his own power. After the clumsy treatment he received there, he left in a wheelchair, paralyzed for life. The hospital blamed the patient and steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for the man's dire spinal cord injury. Not surprisingly, the paralyzed man filed a lawsuit against the hospital as the parent company and owner of the urgent care center. At the conclusion of the 2018 medical malpractice trial, the jury awarded the victim over $7.9 million for the urgent care center's medical negligence. 

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