Jury awards woman $733,000 for injury Rebuilt knee was damaged during physical therapy


A Southwest Baltimore woman has won a $733,329 jury award from St. Agnes Hospital because of an injury she suffered while undergoing physical therapy after an operation to repair ligament damage to her right knee.

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury returned the verdict last week in favor of Marsha Shelburne, 32, after a three-week trial before Judge John Carroll Byrnes.

The jury awarded Shelburne $80,000 for medical expenses, $139,261 for past and future lost wages, $200,000 for pain and suffering, and $314,068 to pay for housework she no longer can do, court records show.

I. Elliott Goldberg, Shelburne's lawyer, said his client has had three operations on her reconstructed right knee since it was damaged during a session with one of the hospital's physical therapists in 1991. She will need at least one more operation to restore a tear to her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.

Goldberg said Shelburne -- who has a grade school education and uses a cane and, at times, crutches and a wheelchair -- has been virtually unemployed in the seven years since she was injured in therapy and has few job prospects.

"There's not much work out there she can do," Goldberg said.

Patti Gilman West, a lawyer for St. Agnes, declined to comment on the case.

But in court papers, St. Agnes argued that the therapist acted properly and said the injury to Shelburne's rebuilt knee was a complication of the surgery.

Shelburne went to St. Agnes in April 1991 after injuring her knee in a fall, according to court documents. She underwent reconstructive surgery on Aug. 21 of that year and was referred to the hospital's physical therapy department for treatment and evaluation Sept. 5, documents show.

Shelburne had a second therapy session five days later.

"While she was being flexed, her leg was hyperflexed by the therapist and she felt a painful pop," Goldberg said. The sound was that of her rebuilt knee being torn apart again, requiring her to have another operation almost immediately, he said.

"She had a very painful recovery. She described it as if a tractor-trailer was sitting on her leg," Goldberg said.

In court papers, lawyers for St. Agnes said: "Flexing a patient's knee is a necessary component of the rehabilitation of an ACL reconstructed knee."

The hospital's lawyers said Shelburne's case was complicated by "pre-existing" conditions, including obesity and an inflammation of the kneecap ligament.

Pub Date: 6/18/98

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