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Lawsuit Over Boy’s 65-Minute CT Scan Settled

May 24, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Pediatric Radiology
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A confidential settlement apparently has ended a civil lawsuit by the family of an almost-2-year-old boy who was allegedly exposed to an overdose of radiation during a 65-minute CT scan at a small hospital in Northern California.

The settlement was filed Friday, according to the Times-Standard newspaper of Eureka, California. Neither the hospital nor the family’s attorney would reveal details. The case has spurred considerable discussion among health-care providers and regulators. Some have said that manufacturers should be required to make CT equipment that records exactly how much radiation patients receive during tests.

According to the suit, radiology technician Raven Knickerbocker administered a 65-minute CT scan to Jacoby Roth in January 2008 after he fell out of bed and injured his neck. The suit accused Knickerbocker of committing 151 medical batteries in the form of 151 scans. The child was 23 months old and weighed 28 pounds.

Knickerbocker was fired. After an investigation, the state suspended her license. She is appealing the suspension.  The hospital, the 78-bed Mad River Community Hospital of Arcata, California, was fined $25,000 but won dismissal of the fine on appeal.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” said Don Stockett, the family’s attorney. “Radiation exposure doesn’t affect everyone the same way. In fact, every case is extremely unique.” Stockett said that so far the boy has shown no ill effects from the radiation, which, the lawyer said, affected a 3-millimeter strip on the boy’s head.

Stockett said there was little information about the consequences of radiation exposure to such a small area. As he pointed out, most of the data regarding the long-term effects from radiation come from studies of Japanese survivors of the World War II atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Similarly, he said, “The law has not evolved to understand radiation injury.”

The New York Times reported that the scan should have taken two or three minutes, not 65. The hospital’s radiology manager at the time called the overdose a “rogue act of insanity.”

The hospital was required to report the incident to the state health department but did not do so. The case came to light only after the child’s parents reported it.

Knickerbocker said she did not remember pushing the scan button 151 times. “I pushed the button like four to six times,” she said. “It’s frustrating because I don’t know what happened.” She said the machine must have malfunctioned.

She stopped the scan after 65 minutes only because the boy’s father, who was holding his son still, became concerned about how long it was taking. However, because the images were not clear, another X-ray technician redid the test, using the same equipment, in less than two minutes.

Related seminar: Pediatric Diagnostic Imaging

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