Branham v. Rock, a personal injury appeal from the Supreme Court of Kentucky, involved plaintiff who was injured while riding as a passenger in her husband’s truck. She was not wearing a seat belt when the truck drove off the road and hit a tree. The passenger side airbag deployed but did not prevent her from hitting the front windshield. He was briefly unconscious following the car crash.
Emergency workers arrived at the scene and took her to a local hospital where doctors ordered a head and neck CT scan. The scan was done “out of an abundance of caution” to rule out internal bleeding. She was then transported by air to another trauma center. There doctors ordered a chest x-ray, which revealed blunting to the left costophrenic angle, which could be related to “effusion or scarring” and a “3.5 cm mass-like density” in the left lower lobe. This caused concern among doctors, but she was discharged with instructions to follow-up with her primary care physician.
About 36 hours later, she died from what the autopsy revealed to be a ruptured aorta caused by blunt-force trauma to the chest. A year following her death, plaintiff filed a wrongful death action, claiming medical malpractice against the hospitals and treating physicians. The trial judge dismissed claims against hospitals on grounds of sovereign immunity, and the jury found for the defendants. Plaintiff appealed trial court’s finding of sovereign immunity and jury’s verdict claiming it was inconsistent with evidence presented at trial.