Case Name: Tareq Khan, M.D. v. CHI St. Luke’s Health Baylor College of Medicine Medical Center f/k/a St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital
- Premises Liability – Dangerous Condition; Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance
- Medical Malpractice
- Slip and Fall
- Back – bulging disc, lumbar; herniated disc, lumbar
- Neck – sprain, cervical; strain, cervical; herniated disc, lumbar
- Brain – brain damage; traumatic brain injury
- Other – chiropractic; unconsciousness; physical therapy; epidural injections; aggravation of pre-existing condition
- Surgeries/Treatment – laminectomy, lumbar
- Mental/Psychological – cognition, impairment; memory, impairment; post-concussion syndrome
- John Neese; Meade & Neese LLP
- Andrew Meade; Meade & Neese LLP
- Frank N. Luccia; Luccia & Evans
- Kathleen E. Evans; Luccia & Evans
Case Outcome: Verdict – Plaintiff
Award Amount: $4,235,693
A wet hospital hallway was the culprit in this case. An anesthesiologist, Dr. Tareq Khan, had already entered the operating room at CHI St. Luke’s Health Baylor College of Medicine Medical Center on January 14, 2014, when the surgeon and surgeon’s assistant arrived for the procedure. Before entering the surgery room, the surgeon and assistant had scrubbed down for the surgery at a hallway scrub station. As they walked to the operating room after washing, soapy liquid dripped from their arms and hands, forming a puddle on the floor.
When Dr. Khan later left the surgery, he slipped on the puddle and fell, hitting his head and falling unconscious. Someone found him knocked out on the floor and took him to the hospital’s emergency room. Emergency room personnel treated Tareq and released him.
Following the slip and fall, Khan received ongoing medical treatment for his injuries through November 2017. He did physical therapy, received chiropractic care, and had epidural steroid injections during his recovery.
Lumbar Disk Surgeries
An MRI showed Tareq had multiple disk bulges and herniations. Dr. Kahn said he had pre-existing degenerative disk disease in his neck and back before the fall at the hospital. However, he did not have symptoms and did not get medical treatment for it.
A herniated disk happens when the jelly-like center of a disk (nucleus) pushes through a tear in its encasement. When the rogue herniated disk compresses a nerve, it can cause pain, weakness, tingling, or numbness in a person’s leg or arm. The leaking jelly-like substance can also inflame and irritate the nerve, leading to more pain. Some people with herniated disks don’t experience symptoms. Disk damage or degeneration can also result in the nucleus pushing out against the disk wall but not breaking through. This is called a bulging disk.
Tareq’s lumbar condition required him to undergo a lumbar laminectomy at one level in November 2017. Doctors perform laminectomies to create space in the spinal canal to relieve spinal cord or nerve pressure. Surgeons remove bone spurs and tissue in the procedure and usually remove small bits of the vertebrae. A year later Kahn had a second lumbar laminectomy at another level.
After the incident, Dr. Kahn said could no longer perform the work of an anesthesiologist.
The Lawsuit’s Allegations and Testimony
Dr. Khan brought a lawsuit against the hospital for negligence that caused injuries to his back, neck, and head. In the action, he brought claims under both the liability statute and premises liability law.
The Wet Floor Hazard
Khan attacked the hospital for a lack of written policies and procedures for the hazardous situation of the dripping on the floor that occurred after doctors and staff scrubbed down in the hallway station. The hospital did not dispute that hazard cleanup was its responsibility. It did, however, state that the hospital orally instructs employees that they are all responsible for cleaning up any hazards. Kahn’s counsel countered with the point that making something everyone’s responsibility means that no one shoulders the responsibility.
Tareq Khan’s counsel maintained that in general and on the day of the incident this hospital was grossly understaffed. Additionally, the plaintiff said the hospital didn’t even know which employees were on duty on the day Dr. Kahn fell. Alternatively, Kahn’s lawyers suggested that if the hospital could identify the staff onsite that day, then they failed to produce the names of those employees in discovery.
The defense flatly denied the assertion that it was understaffed. The hospital also stated that it did not have documentation of staffing that day because the incident happened before it changed computer systems.
Battle of the Experts
Khan asserted that he suffered a concussion, traumatic brain injury, and numerous lumbar disk bulges and herniations from the accident. He also said the fall resulted in cervical sprains and strains, and he maintained that the incident aggravated his pre-existing condition.
Tareq contended that he suffered debilitating headaches, dizziness, memory problems, and cognitive deficiency from his head injuries. Known as post-concussion syndrome, these symptoms can persist for weeks to months. Kahn said that they prevented him from working as an anesthesiologist. Tareq said that after his injuries he can no longer enjoy his usual outdoor activities like hiking.
In contrast to Dr. Kahn’s claims, a defense neurosurgeon medical expert opined that Tareq’s back problems were entirely due to his pre-existing conditions and degenerative in nature. Even if the incident had never happened, this expert stated, Kahn would have eventually needed lumbar laminectomies. The defense also maintained that there was no objective evidence of post-concussion syndrome. Khan’s doctors, the hospital said, used a diagnostic test that was not appropriate for Dr. Khan’s age.
At Khan’s counsel’s request, the jury charge included the “eggshell plaintiff” instruction. This jury instruction protects a plaintiff whose pre-existing condition renders them more susceptible to injury. Here, Khan’s lawyers aimed to persuade the jury that the hospital is liable for aggravating Tareq’s pre-existing back condition and that his prior condition must be accounted for in the damages.
Dr. Khan’s floor expert opined that the hospital floor was unreasonably slippery when wet. The defense’s floor expert, however, stated that the floor was not unreasonably slippery, even when wet.
Dr. Kahn claimed that his inability to work after the injuries from the slippery floor cost him valuable ownership shares and dividends in US Anesthesia Partners. This entity bought Khan’s anesthesiology group prior to the incident. The purchase agreement stipulated that the shares in US Anesthesia that Dr. Khan was awarded were only vested if he continued working for five years. Khan sought $2,331,479 for his loss of the value of US Anesthesia shares and dividends.
Using experts to estimate his future earnings, Kahn sought a range of damages for future lost earnings. Dr. Kahn also sought $1,413,291 for the loss of his earning capacity. In addition, Tareq sought $100,000 in damages for each of his past physical pain and mental anguish, future physical pain and mental anguish, past physical impairment, and future physical impairment—totaling $400,000.
Who Won the Case?
An 11-1 jury found that the hospital’s negligence proximately caused Dr. Khan’s injuries. The finding was based on both medical negligence and premises liability.
Khan’s award for personal injuries totaled $4,235,693.
The plaintiff retained expert witnesses in:
- Brain Injury/Trauma
- General Surgery
- Hospital Administration & Procedures
The defendant retained expert witnesses in:
- Hospital Administration & Procedures
In this slip and fall case that happened in a hospital, the jury held the hospital accountable under both theories. The case reminds plaintiffs’ attorneys that using both medical negligence and a premises liability theory can be a smart strategy when the plaintiff’s injuries don’t relate to direct medical care. The “eggshell plaintiff” strategy also likely persuaded the jury to award higher damages and to disregard the defense expert’s claim that Dr. Kahn’s injuries were due to his prior conditions.