$28.8M Verdict: Failure To Diagnose, Treat Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection   

2023 Medical Malpractice Trial Report
Essex Superior Court, Salem, Massachusetts
By Robert M. Higgins, attorney for the plaintiffs

Failure to diagnose and treat aortic aneurysm and dissection at Salem Hospital ER results in death of 43-year-old man

Case summary

Joseph Brown was 43 years old when he arrived at Salem Hospital on the morning of 1/13/18. Mr. Brown started to have chest and back pain and shortness of breath that morning. He was seen by defendant emergency room physician Dr. Steven Browell.

Dr. Browell ordered bloodwork which showed Mr. Brown had an elevated white blood count. Dr. Browell assumed that Mr. Brown had an infection and recommended that he be admitted to treat his infection.

The defendant hospitalist, Dr. William Kenyon, accepted the admission of Mr. Brown. Dr. Kenyon examined Mr. Brown as well and Dr. Kenyon reiterated Dr. Browell’s belief that an infection was causing his symptoms and he sent Mr. Brown to the medical floor.

The testimony at trial established that Mr. Brown’s complaints were consistent with aortic aneurysm/dissection. The testimony by both defendants was clear that they knew it could be an aneurysm/dissection but they thought he was too young and did not have risk factors for that to be the cause. The testimony was also very clear that a CT scan was the definitive test to rule out an aneurysm/dissection.

Mr. Brown stayed on the floor overnight.

In the early morning of 1/14/18, his chest and back pain worsened and he became short of breath again. The covering doctor that morning ordered an immediate CT scan, which showed a massive aneurysm at the beginning of his aorta and a dissection extending through most of his aorta.

As Salem Hospital could not perform the surgery needed, Mr. Brown was set up to be flown emergently to Boston. However, before he was able to be transported, his aorta ruptured, his heart stopped and he died on his way to the helicopter.

Lawsuit claimed negligence in failing to order CT scan

The plaintiff presented experts in emergency medicine and cardiothoracic surgery. They were both of the opinion that the defendants were negligent in failing to order a CTA on 1/13/18. There was also expert testimony that surgery any time before his heart stopped would have prevented his death.

The defendants presented experts who testified that it was reasonable and appropriate for the defendants to treat Mr. Brown for an infection and they had no reason to think it was an aneurysm or dissection.

Jury decides in favor of plaintiff

The trial lasted 8 days and the jury deliberated for approximately 3 hours before returning a verdict of $20,000,000 for the loss Mr. Brown's two daughters suffered. With interest, the award was $28,800,000.

Lubin & Meyer attorneys  Robert M. Higgins and Andrew C. Meyer, Jr. represented the plaintiff in this lawsuit.

See related media coverage on this verdict:

Jury awards $29 million to family of man, 43, who died from undiagnosed aortic aneurysm at Salem Hospital
Boston.com, May 10, 2023

Family awarded $29 million in lawsuit against Salem Hospital
The Salem News, May 5, 2023

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