Heart Attack Verdict: $5.8 Million
2012 Medical Malpractice Trial Report
59-year-old man dies due to primary care physician’s failure to continue asprin and refer patient to cardiologist
This trial was brought forward by the family of a decedent who died in June of 2006 from a fatal heart attack. Four months earlier, the decedent had an episode of severe chest pain that lasted approximately 30 minutes. EMTs immediately responded and gave him Aspirin and Nitroglycerin. After getting the medicine, his chest pain got better. The doctors in the Emergency Department ran some initial tests (EKG and serial cardiac enzymes) that showed he was not having an active heart attack. Despite the negative testing, the hospitalist assigned to him noted that there was still "obvious concern" and ordered a nuclear stress test and a cardiology consult. The cardiologist agreed to the hospitalist’s plan. The stress test was interpreted as normal and the decedent was discharged home with instructions to follow up with the defendant, his Primary Care Physician (PCP).
The decedent had a follow up visit with the PCP 6 days after discharge. The decedent was still taking Aspirin on the date of this follow up visit. At this visit, the PCP told the decedent to stop the Aspirin. Plaintiff’s expert opined that the PCP’s decision to stop the Aspirin without referring the decedent to a cardiologist was negligent because Aspirin is a powerful cardiac stabilizing medicine. The defendant PCP argued that he would have no reason to suspect a cardiac cause for his chest pain episode given that he was seeing the patient within a week of receiving a full cardiac workup and within a week of every test (EKG, serial cardiac enzymes, nuclear stress test) coming back negative for a cardiac cause of his symptoms. He further argued that the decedent had not been sent home on Aspirin by any physician in the hospital and that there was not one medical record indicating that continued Aspirin use was necessary or recommended from a cardiac perspective. Plaintiff’s counsel rebutted the defense with evidence that virtually all patients such as the decedent are sent home on Aspirin following a hospitalization for chest pain and that the PCP failed to obtain sufficient records from the hospitalization to allow him to conclude that a cardiac problem had been ruled out before stopping the Aspirin without the approval of a cardiologist. The jury specifically found against the PCP, finding him negligent in both failing to refer the patient back to a cardiologist and stopping the Aspirin.
See related news coverage on this trial: Mass. doctor could pay $5.8M in heart attack malpractice suit
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