Fitzsimmons Law Firm recently settled a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit for $1 Million which represents the full insurance policy limits of the defendants. This medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit arose from the defendants' failures to recognize, appreciate and treat the signs and symptoms of acute coronary syndrome (ACS or unstable angina).
The patient, a 45 year old male employed as a local coal miner, presented to an Emergency Department at a local hospital with a 95% obstruction in his right coronary artery complaining of thoracic back pain (under his scapula), right upper quadrant abdominal pain and radiating pain to the right side of his neck. The patient's history was also positive for nausea, vomiting, feeling bloated, pain in the thoracic area of his back, abdominal pain and radiating pain to the right side of his neck for the past seven (7) to ten (10) days. During his treatment at the Emergency Department, the patient's blood pressure was taken only one time revealing uncontrolled hypertension and no diagnostic testing was ordered or performed. Thereafter, without running a single test, the defendant nurse practitioner and defendant doctor simply guessed that the patient's complaints of pain stemmed from his gallbladder and sent him home. Less than twenty-four hours later, the patient suffered an ischemic arrhythmia while sitting on his couch at home and died due to the 95% blockage in his right coronary artery.
The decedent's mother employed Fitzsimmons Law Firm who filed a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit against the nurse practitioner, the emergency room doctor and their employer, the emergency room physician's group. Plaintiff retained expert physicians in the fields of emergency medicine and cardiology who testified the defendants deviated from acceptable standards of care and committed medical malpractice by: (a) failing to obtain a proper and complete medical history of risk factors for cardiac disease, which included failing to inquire about the smoking history of the patient and failing to obtain a repeat blood pressure; (b) failing to appreciate that the history and symptoms of the patient were consistent for acute coronary syndrome (ACS) or a cardiac event; (c) failing to properly manage, treat, and test, including failing to order the proper diagnostic studies, specifically including, a chest x-ray, serial cardiac enzymes, an EKG, and failing to administer aspirin in the Emergency Department; and (d) failing to admit the patient to the hospital for monitoring, observation and a cardiology consultation to determine whether the patient was going to undergo a stress test or directly to the cardiac cath lab. Plaintiff's experts further testified that the failure to follow the accepted standards of care directly caused the death of a forty-five (45) year old male patient who had a life expectancy of at least another twenty-five (25) years.
After initially filing this lawsuit against the defendants for medical malpractice, Plaintiff subsequently amended her complaint to add a count for negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention of the defendant doctor by his employer. Specifically, Fitzsimmons Law Firm had discovered that the defendant doctor failed his board certification exams twice and had been sued on two prior occasions in wrongful death claims arising from his treatment in the same Emergency Department. After conducting discovery, it was revealed that prior to the three (3) malpractice/wrongful death claims filed against the defendant doctor (which included this lawsuit by Fitzsimmons Law Firm), his employer had found that he was not clinically competent, did not understand the policies and procedures in place and he was not free from outstanding issues or areas of concern. Despite these findings, his employer continued to permit the defendant doctor to practice emergency medicine without taking any corrective action, which was a violation of their own policies and procedures for addressing such deficiencies. As a result, the defendant doctor treated three patients who subsequently died after receiving medical care from the defendant doctor.
The plaintiff sought all damages recoverable under the law, including pain and suffering of the decedent; medical bills; lost wages of the decedent; funeral and burial expenses; lost household services; and compensation for sorrow, mental anguish, solace and the loss of the decedent's society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices, and advice. Plaintiff also sought punitive damages against the defendants, and in particular the employer of the defendant doctor, for its repeated and reckless retention of the defendant doctor despite their own evaluations finding him incompetent and his employer's knowledge of prior allegations of negligence against the defendant doctor.
The defendants heavily contested liability claiming their medical care met the standard of care and was appropriate under the circumstances. Defendants also argued that the "trauma cap" set forth in W.Va. Code §55-7B-9c, limited plaintiff's recoverable damages to $500,000. The defendant employer also maintained that it was reasonable and appropriate to employ the defendant doctor as an emergency room physician despite their own evaluations stating otherwise. After litigating the case for more than a year and conducting extensive discovery, the case settled on the eve of trial for $1 Million policy limits.