While the hospital admitted and apologized for not respecting Mr R’s wishes, the hospital did not believe that it owed any monetary compensation to Mr R based on this. The hospital made a motion to dismiss the case, alleging among other things that “the mere prolongation of life does not constitute a compensable injury.”

The court, however, disagreed and held that “in a jurisdiction which has a statutory right to reject medical treatment, failure to respect the patient’s wishes has consequences.” The court pointed out that Mr R was resuscitated in violation of his DNR order, against his wishes, and that he suffered damages during the 2-year period that followed.

The court held that there was nothing in the law to “preclude a cause of action for a claim of negligence in a situation such as this where Defendants admit unauthorized resuscitation and the patient thereafter lived for approximately 2 more years and alleges he suffered damages.” The court held that it should be up to a jury to decide if Mr R could establish the elements of negligence to be successful in the lawsuit.

The case went to a jury trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found the hospital negligent in its care of Mr R and that the negligence caused damages. The jury awarded about $210k for medical expenses, and $200k for mental and physical pain and suffering. The jury did not find the hospital or physician liable for battery.

Protecting Yourself

This may be the first ‘wrongful prolongation of life’ case to go before a jury. It probably will not be the last. As people take more control over their own health care decisions, we will increasingly see patients coming in with advanced directives, DNRs, and DNIs. But health care practitioners are trained to react if a patient collapses not to run to check the DNR status. Unfortunately, clinicians are going to need to learn to do both if this case is any indication. While it is understandable that the jury would sympathize with Mr R’s plight, the truth is that it is also a very complicated situation for health care practitioners whose instinct and training is to act to save a patient. With this in mind, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your patient’s DNR/DNI or advance directives.