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Did Natasha Richardson Receive Proper Care From the Ski Area and the Doctors and Hospitals Who Treated Her?

As an attorney who represents victims of brain trauma including brain injuries caused by medical mismanagement, I have been asked to provide my observations concerning the potential for medical malpractice in the care or lack of care that Ms. Richardson received as well as the potential liability of the ski area for her injuries and death.

Unfortunately, without the benefit of a review of her medical records, the ski area incident reports and the autopsy report, my opinions are just general observations and general thoughts on the subject matter.

Initially, any discussion must first look at the potential liability of the ski area where Ms. Richardson's accident took place.  There are conflicting reports as to whether Ms. Richardson actually struck her head and the extent of her fall.  Reports indicate that Ms. Richardson told her ski instructor and the ski patrol that she was fine but none the less, she did not return to the mountain and was accompanied to her room for observation by mountain personnel.

This by itself raises more questions then it answers.  What actually did the ski instructor and others observe about Ms. Richardson's fall?  This does not sound like a simple fall to the ground to me.  Did she fall any distance, what was happening to her head and body as she fell down the slope?  Some red flags must have been raised because individuals are not routinely accompanied to their hotel rooms for observation merely because they fell while skiing. 

The question are you OK to some one who just sustained a head injury is really a ridiculous question to be asking the potentially brain injured individual.  The acceptance of a simple yes or no answer to this question and relying on that answer to determine if medical follow up is necessary may be considered to be negligence.  Similarly, asking an individual if they lost consciousness is also a poor question to be asking since in most, if not in all circumstances the head injured individual has no idea if they lost consciousness or not.  A far better question to ask is what is the last thing you remember before you fell and the first thing you remember after you fell?

There are many signs and symptoms of a concussion and brain injury that need to be explored by personnel at the scene.  It is not enough to ask the simple question are you OK.  Detailed questioning should be undertaken in all closed head injury cases to determine if any of the signs and symptoms of a concussion are present.

Some of the questions that should have been asked at the scene include:  Do you have a headache, are you dizzy, are you nauseous, are you sensitive to bright light or loud noises, are you dizzy?  A physical examination also needs to be undertaken with the understanding that even if the physical examination is negative, the complaints of brain injury by the brain injured individual may be the only signs of the brain trauma and a negative physical examination cannot rule out brain trauma.

When Ms. Richardson was accompanied to her room, the person or persons who were assigned to watch her needed to be properly trained in the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury, otherwise they would have no knowledge of what to be observing Ms. Richardson for. 

If she began to make complaints, how much time elapsed before medical care was summoned?

It is clear that eventually Ms Richardson was transferred to a local hospital.  Exactly what complaints precipitated the transfer or how long she had these complaints before the transfer was made needs to be explored.  Why she was transferred to a local hospital rather than a trauma center better equipped to deal with brain trauma is another question that needs answering.

When Ms. Richardson finally arrived at the local hospital, was she immediately taken for a CT scan to see if she had sustained any head trauma or had developed pressure changes or bleeds in the brain.  These bleeds could be subdural, below the dural surface or epidural, between the brain and the skull.  In either event, they are both serious and life threatening and proper surgical care needs to be undertaken on an emergency basis.  So, from both a medical and legal standpoint, it must be determined if a CT scan was taken and when it was taken as well as the emergency treatment that was rendered or should have been rendered following the CT scan.  Also, who read the CT scan and was that reading an accurate reading of what the CT scan actually showed are further questions that a malpractice attorney would be asking in this case.

The next event that took pace in Ms. Richardson's case was her transfer from the local hospital to a major trauma center in Montreal.  How this transfer took place needs to be answered.  Was it by air transport or ambulance?  Was the transfer delayed?  What emergency measures were taken to relieve any pressure or swelling on her brain before the transfer and what steps were taken on an emergency basis to stop the bleeding within her brain?  

Questions also need answering if steps were ever taken to determine Ms. Richardson's intracranial cerebral pressure (ICP) and if an ICP monitor was placed in her skull to constantly monitor pressure changes.

When she arrived in Montreal, what was her condition and how soon was emergency Nero surgery performed.  Were trained professionals standing by for emergency surgery with a prepared operating suite  or was more precious time wasted?

These are but some of the questions that need answering in determining the potential liability of the ski area and the liability of the medical personnel who rendered care to Natasha Richardson.

In these types of cases, an attorney would need to gather all of the medical and hospital records, the CT scans and MRI films and carefully review the care that was rendered and the timing of all care that was rendered.  Many questions would need to be answered and could only be answered at the time that depositions were conducted since in many instances a review of hospital and medical records reveals more questions than answers. 



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Finally I see someone asking the very questions I have been wondering about.


Thank you for your response in this tragic death. As a surgical resident I was troubled by the same questions raised in your article.

Celebrity or not, it needs to be determined exactly when and what interventions did or did not take place in her course of treatment. Most importantly, was her treatment in compliance with the standard of care as it applies to head injury cases.

This is not about one person but the care given to ALL patients that enter the Canadian healthcare system. On the surface, it seems to have completely failed Ms. Richardson and her family.

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