On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-836-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 17, 2007
Before Judges Gilroy and Baxter.
Plaintiffs Elizabeth Bogner and George Bogner,*fn1 her husband, appeal from the August 23, 2006, order of the Law Division that entered a judgment of no cause for action following a jury verdict in favor of defendant Rahway Hospital (Rahway). Plaintiff had sued Rahway as a result of injuries she sustained from a fall while getting out of her hospital bed. We affirm.
Plaintiff was admitted to Rahway on March 7, 2003, following an epileptic seizure. On March 10, 2003, between 8:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., she fell when she attempted to leave her hospital bed in order to use the bathroom. Plaintiff claimed that for approximately thirty to forty-five minutes prior to attempting to leave the bed, she rang the call buzzer, but no one responded. As she attempted to leave her bed, she leaned on the food tray table, which rolled away, causing her to fall to the floor and fracture her hip and elbow. During cross-examination, plaintiff conceded that she never mentioned in her deposition that she had rung the call buzzer or that no one had responded.
Radame Orji was the nurse on duty the night plaintiff fell. She wrote a note in plaintiff's medical chart describing plaintiff's response to Orji's question of how she fell. Orji wrote, "when I asked her how she fell, she stated that she wanted to find out what was happening on the other side of the room. She got up and tripped on the leg of the bedside table."
Plaintiff never said anything to Orji about the call bell not working. The first time Orji heard that plaintiff was claiming she fell because the call bell did not work was when counsel for Rahway told her so. Orji would have called Rahway's maintenance department to request a repair of the call buzzer if plaintiff had mentioned anything about the call bell the night of her fall, but, according to Orji, plaintiff never told Orji the call bell was inoperable.
At the time plaintiff fell, plaintiff was permitted to leave her bed and go into the bathroom without assistance. According to Orji "the problem plaintiff had that day" was not her seizure disorder, but instead the aftereffects of a biopsy of her liver. Orji explained that hospital staff "were assessing the biopsy site for bleeding and drainage and . . . after [plaintiff] recovered from the biopsy, [she was allowed] to go to the bathroom without assistance."
On cross-examination, Orji acknowledged that even though the doctor authorized plaintiff to ambulate unassisted, such authorization would not "bar her from asking for assistance" if she felt she needed it. Orji agreed that if plaintiff had activated the call bell, nursing staff would have been obligated to respond by going into plaintiff's room to help her. The jury returned a verdict in Rahway's favor, finding that the hospital was not negligent.
Plaintiff's sole argument on appeal concerns the judge's decision to bar her from making any reference to the contents of the "high risk fall assessment" document (fall assessment form) that hospital staff completed during the first three days of plaintiff's stay in the hospital, from March 7 to 9, 2003. The hospital staff only completes a fall assessment form on any given day if a patient's medical condition on that day presents a significant risk of causing the patient to fall.
For plaintiff, the fall assessment form was completed on March 7, 8 and 9 because, according to a notation on the form, plaintiff's arthritis and seizure disorder placed her at high risk of falling. The form directs hospital staff to: 1) answer the call buzzer promptly; 2) teach the patient that the bedside table rolls and may not support the patient if he or she leans on it; 3) keep the two upper siderails on the bed in an upright position while the patient is in bed; and 4) instruct the patient to ask for assistance for any patient activities. Although there was a "high risk fall ...