Wrongful death settlement brings $2 million

2005 Medical Malpractice Settlement Report

Failure to diagnose and treat cardiac arrhythmia resulting in death of 35 year-old man.

On March 3, 1998, the plaintiff’s decedent underwent surgery at the Lahey Clinic Medical Center to insert an aortic valve graft. He had no post-operative complications and was discharged home three days later on both Coumadin and Heparin to prevent blood clots from forming in the new valve. Within a day of returning home, the plaintiff’s decedent was noted to have trouble at home keeping his coagulation in the correct range so he was readmitted to Lahey Clinic on March 9 for a 10-day admission to regulate his blood levels. On March 18, the records indicated that his levels were appropriate and the plan was to discharge him on March 19.

In the early morning hours of March 19 at approximately 3:30 a.m., the plaintiff’s decedent experienced sudden onset of pain between his shoulder blades and into his back and chest The plaintiff’s decedent walked out to the nurse’s station and reported to a nurse (Defendant #1) that he was scared of this sudden pain and asked that the doctor on call be called in to see him. Defendant #1 checked his vital signs, which were reportedly normal and then called the on call physician’s assistant (Defendant #2). Over the telephone, Defendant #2 instructed Defendant #1 to give him pain medication and take him back to bed. Defendant #2 then indicated to Defendant #1 that she was not coming to see the plaintiff’s decedent because he was difficult patient and he was always complaining about something. Neither Defendant #1 nor Defendant #2 ever called a physician or placed an EKG on the plaintiff’s decedent to check his heart rhythm.

The medical records indicated that the plaintiff’s decedent continued to complain of severe back pain and repeatedly pleaded with Defendant #1 to help him. Instead of contacting a physician, Defendant #1 gave him pain medications, a sedative and called the nursing supervisor (Defendant #3) to come see him. When the Defendant #3 arrived in the room, the records reflect that the plaintiff’s decedent was agitated, in a lot of pain and begging for someone to help him. Defendant #3, instead of calling a physician or placing an EKG on him, gave him a back rub and assured him that he would be fine. At approximately 3:50 a.m.—20 minutes after he began complaining—the plaintiff’s decedent became diaphoretic, indicated that the pain was crossing through his chest and continued to ask for help. Within 2 minutes, the plaintiff’s decedent suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest and the code team was summoned. Despite nearly one-hour of resuscitation efforts, the plaintiff’s decedent was pronounced dead. The autopsy did not indicate a gross abnormality as the cause of death but the medical examiner indicated that it was probably caused by a cardiac arrhythmia as a result of the valve surgery he had two weeks prior.

It was the plaintiff’s contention that all defendants were negligent in their failure to contact a physician to evaluate the plaintiff’s decedent when he began having his severe complaints and in their failure to place him on EKG monitor immediately. The plaintiff planned to present evidence that an EKG would have shown heart rhythm disturbances that would have most likely been corrected before causing his death. The plaintiff further expected to present evidence that Defendant #2 was grossly negligent when she refused to come see a the plaintiff’s decedent after he requested that she do so.

The defendants expected medical expert witnesses to opine that all the defendants' acted appropriately. The defendants' expected to present evidence that they complied with accepted standards of care by talking with the decedent, assessing his vital signs (which were said to be normal by the defendants) and determining that he was in no imminent danger. The defendants expected to put forth medical testimony that the plaintiff’s decedent died of a sudden cardiac event unrelated to his initial back pain and that his death was completely unpreventable in the circumstances of this case.

The case settled for $2,000,000.00 three days before the trial was expected to start.

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