Failure To Diagnose and Treat Stroke: $4.6M Verdict
Failure of neurologist to recognize that broken MRI scanner would delay diagnosis and treatment of stroke leads to death of 57-yea-old man
2023 Medical Malpractice Settlement Report
By Adam R. Satin, Attorney for plaintiff
Bristol County, Massachusetts
Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Summary
The decedent was a 57-year-old male with no medical history of significance. One morning, he noticed that he had a headache and that there was some slight weakness of his left arm and that his speech was somewhat slurred. His girlfriend took him to the nearest emergency department just 15 minutes away.
In the Sturdy Memorial Emergency Department, the decedent was evaluated by the emergency physician, who recognized that his symptoms were consistent with a mild stroke and called in the “on call” defendant neurologist. This specific neurologist had been in clinical practice for many years, but had failed his board certification exam on the first attempt and failed to attain board certification over the course of several years thereafter. In consultation with the emergency room physician, the defendant neurologist did not order clot-busting medicine called tPA in the emergency department.
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The neurologist came to evaluate the decedent hours later, after he had been admitted. Having passed on tPA, the defendant neurologist ordered an MRA, which focuses specifically on the blood flow through the arteries in the neck to that feed oxygen to the brain. MRA in the setting of an acute stroke is critical to diagnose the exact location and cause of the problem because the patient may need an operation or procedure to fix it. However, the defendant failed to order the test “STAT” and failed to follow up on it when it did not happen in a timely manner. The defendant was unaware that the MR scanner at the hospital was “down” and needed service. Thus, the patient was not transferred to a facility that could perform the testing immediately.
The next morning, the stroke progressed. The defense maintained that this was an entirely new and unpredictable stroke whereas plaintiff’s counsel argued that the original stroke did exactly what it was always at risk for doing, either growing where it was or “breaking off” a smaller clot that could travel and lodge upstream in the brain blocking all oxygen to a critical portion of the brain. As a result of this severe stroke, the decedent was “locked in” (i.e., aware of everything, but unable to speak or move) and plaintiff’s counsel elicited testimony from the defendant’s expert (derived from his prior testimony in another case) that this is a terrifying experience for the patient and was a fate worse than death. He passed 5 days later.
The case was tried for two weeks and the jury deliberated for five hours before returning a verdict — final amount $4,601,762.50 including interest.
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