Hospitals Take A Hit

On a Saturday afternoon in November of 1960, Eastern Illinois University lost a football game to Central Michigan University, 35-12. One unlucky linebacker, Dorrence Darling II, suffered a severe leg fracture while attempting a tackle.

At Charleston Community Memorial Hospital Dr. John Alexander applied traction and set a plaster cast. Darling was in serious pain; his toes became swollen, black, and cold, then lost feeling. Twice Dr. Alexander cut away part of the cast, then he removed it altogether. A witness said the wound was "the worst he had smelled since World War II." The leg was finally amputated eight inches below the knee.

The Darling family settled with Dr. Alexander, but also sued the hospital. Because only individuals were licensed to practice medicine, hospitals had been immune to this liability. The Darlings argued that hospital accreditation standards, state licensing regulations, and the hospital’s own bylaws set a standard of care that the hospital had failed to meet. The Illinois Supreme Court concurred in 1965, a decision that marked a turning point in hospital responsibility for the quality of their care—and encouraged hospitals to take more interest in their emergency departments. Forty years later a legal scholar called it a Big Bang event that spawned "a totally new and still expanding universe of hospital liability theory."

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