legal pearl

Physician, Radiologist Liable for "Locked-In Syndrome" Diagnosis

Ann W. Latner, JD
  • The Background

    A 32-year-old man collapsed during a chiropractic neck treatment. He was taken to a local hospital’s ED where he was attended to by the ED physician. The physician suspected an arterial dissection and ordered imaging to look for an arterial tear. The radiologist found an arterial tear but missed the arterial blockage that was causing a massive stroke. By the time the stroke was diagnosed, the patient was suffering from “locked-in syndrome” and unable to communicate except with his eyes.

    The Case

    At trial, the plaintiff argued that the ED physician knew the patient had the symptoms of stroke but didn’t properly act or stress the importance of speed. The ED physician failed to tell the neurologist that the patient had collapsed during a chiropractic visit. The radiologist only was looking for an arterial tear and missed the stroke. Further, the plaintiff faulted intensive care unit (ICU) nurses and a physician assistant, but they testified that they were led to believe by the physician that the patient had meningitis rather than a stroke.

    The Decision

    The trial against the ED physician, radiologist, neurologist, ICU nurses, and physician assistant lasted 3 weeks. In that time, jurors learned, among other things, what “locked-in syndrome” was and how it would impact the patient’s life. Jurors returned with a $75 million verdict against only the ED physician and radiologist, holding the ED doctor 60 percent and the radiologist 40 percent responsible for the harm to the patient. The award included $29 million in medical expenses and $46 million in non-economic damages, including pain and suffering.

    The Bottom Line

    The neurologist, physician assistant, and ICU nurses were absolved of responsibility for the patient’s harm.



    Lawlor M. Fulton county jury awards $75M verdict to patient with lcked-In syndrome. October 25, 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.

    Ann W. Latner, JD, is a freelance writer and attorney based in New York. She was formerly the director of periodicals at the American Pharmacists Association and editor of Pharmacy Times.