Improperly Treated Pneumonia: $2.5M Settlement

2023 Medical Malpractice Settlement Report
By Robert M. Higgins, attorney for the plaintiffs

Lawsuit claimed improper treatment of pneumonia led to respiratory arrest and death of patient

Case summary

On 12/25/11, the decedent presented to the emergency room complaining of right upper quadrant abdominal pain, shortness of breath, right lower chest and back pain, and 3-day history of fever, nausea, and vomiting. A chest x-ray showed signs of pneumonia. He was started on supplemental oxygen and antibiotics and admitted to the floor under the care of the defendant hospitalist.

Over the next several days, the decedent’s oxygen saturations dropped and his need for oxygen increased. He continued to complain of pain and his heart rate began to elevate. His antibiotics were changed but his pneumonia appeared to be worsening. By the end of December, the decedent had a significantly elevated white blood count, had developed a constant temperature, his heart rate was elevated and his respiratory rate was increasing. A pulmonology consult was finally obtained and there was concern expressed that the decedent was developing ARDS. Another chest x-ray was obtained and it showed bilateral pneumonia that had not improved over the 6 days of treatment.

In the early morning hours of 1/2/12, the decedent went into respiratory distress. He was transferred to the ICU where lab work noted that he was severely hypoxic. Despite this obvious difficulty breathing, the ICU defendant decided that he did not need to be intubated and that they could continue to treat him with supplemental oxygen.

The decedent remained in the ICU on oxygen until the early morning hours of 1/4/12 when his oxygen saturations dropped to the 70’s and the intensivist finally decided to intubate him. As she was attempting to intubate he suffered a cardiac arrest. Attempts to resuscitate with CPR were unsuccessful and he passed away. An autopsy was done it showed he died of severe pneumonia which caused significant damage to the structure of the lungs.

Plaintiff was expected to present expert medical testimony that the defendants were negligent in not determining the appropriate antibiotics to treat his specific pneumonia and also failing to intubate him earlier in his hospital stay. Had the defendants done both he would have survived.

The case settled for $2,500,000 a few weeks before trial.

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

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