Post-surgery Respiratory Arrest, Wrongful Death: $1.25M Settlement

2023 Medical Malpractice Settlement Report
By Nicholas D. Cappiello, attorney for the plaintiffs

Patient dies from acute airway obstruction and hypoxic brain injury after undergoing surgery

Case summary

Plaintiff’s decedent died in November 2013 at age 82 from an acute airway obstruction and hypoxic brain injury after undergoing surgery for a progressive and debilitating lytic lesion on her cervical spine.

Decedent’s medical history included pacemaker, atrial fibrillation, hypertension, high cholesterol, multiple strokes, lymphoma/Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, Brown-Sequard syndrome, and a C1-C2 destructive lytic lesion extending into the spinal canal causing progressive weakness, numbness and gait difficulty.

In November 2013, defendant neurosurgeon performed cervical decompression to remove the lytic lesion and to prevent paralysis.

Post-operatively, decedent was extubated, awake, alert, oriented, tolerating room air, able to follow commands with fluent speech, but had painful swallowing and coughing.

For the next 3 days, decedent was monitored by the defendant neurosurgeons, speech and swallow therapist, and nursing staff. Decedent had short-term memory deficits and diminished strength but was alert, oriented, and awake. Additionally, decedent failed swallow evaluations when prompted to swallow water. She continued on tube feeds, continued to have throat pain and shortness of breath, and was having difficulty clearing her secretions. Defendants noted she had laryngeal edema from the surgery on her neck and intubation.

On POD #3, decedent had increased pain with swallowing and speaking, weak cough, increased difficulty clearing her throat and managing secretions, and required suction of thick phlegm. Defendants’ assessment was odynophagia, decreased secretion management, weak cough/voice in the setting of post-op swelling and potential intubation or laryngeal injury. Defendants planned additional fiberoptic examination, but decedent was unable to participate that day due to her pain levels.

Shortly thereafter, decedent became unresponsive in bed. Her respiratory arrest was followed by a difficult intubation and brain damage due to loss of airway. Decedent’s neurological status deteriorated, and she ultimately passed away.

Plaintiff’s claim was that defendants failed to re-intubate decedent given her risk factors for aspiration, impending airway compromise, loss of control of the airway, and/or airway obstruction and, as a result, she suffered a foreseeable and devastating respiratory arrest and wrongful death.

The case settled after the first day of trial for One Million, Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($1,250,000.00).

Lubin & Meyer attorneys Nicholas D. Cappiello, Lynn I. Hu, and Andrew C. Meyer, Jr. represented the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

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