Hurt Wodonga nurse keeps $1.28m

A NURSE injured in a “life and death situation” with a patient “foaming at the mouth” will retain a $1.28 million court payout after the Wodonga hospital yesterday failed in a court appeal.

Ellen Hopgood, 46, had been awarded $880,000 for lost earnings and $400,000 for pain and suffering after a Supreme Court jury, found the hospital liable for negligence and a breach of statutory duty.

Ms Hopgood had sued Wodonga Regional Health Service over an incident in June 2006 in which she suffered a career-ending back injury after responding to a patient who was in desperate need of oxygen. He was “foaming at the mouth, quite blue, shaking quite violently”.

“It was a life or death situation, he needed oxygen and needed it quickly,” Ms Hopgood told the jury at the trial in April.

Ms Hopgood had leaned over the railing of the patient’s bed and pulled him towards her to open his airway and, as she did, she felt a “really sickening deep sharp pain” which was diagnosed as a severe disc prolapse.

The hospital had argued there was contributory negligence by Ms Hopgood in that she should not have moved the patient by herself and should have pressed an emergency button and waited for other staff to help.

Ms Hopgood told the jury: “I was not going to watch the patient die in front of me while waiting for people to arrive from different units”.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Victoria’s Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by the Wodonga hospital, which had challenged the jury’s verdict and a ruling by the trial judge David Beach who rejected the health service’s argument that Ms Hopgood “had failed to prove that there was an alternative system of work which was practicable and reasonable and which would have prevented her injury”.

The hospital had argued to justices Chris Maxwell, Peter Buchanan and David Harper, sitting at Shepparton, that it was not open to the jury to conclude a “breach of duty had caused Ms Hopgood’s injury” or “there was no contributory negligence on her part”.

The breach of duty proposition was based on the hospital increasing the number of nurses on night shift in the emergency department from two to four in 2007 and Ms Hopgood arguing if those numbers existed in 2006, she would not have suffered her injury.

Justice Maxwell rejected the hospital’s appeal grounds and was joined by his fellow justices in dismissing the appeal.

“I consider it was open to the jury, on the evidence before them, to reach the conclusions they did,” Justice Maxwell said.

Ms Hopgood’s instructing solicitor Paul Gatto, of Nevin Lenne & Gross, said his client was pleased with the outcome.

“She’s very happy with the result,” he said.

Ms Hopgood has not worked since and continues to suffer pain.