Defense Verdict on Behalf of Internal Medicine Physician and Infectious Disease Physician

Marshall L. Schwartz and Brett M. Littman obtained a defense verdict on behalf of an internal medicine physician, an infectious disease physician, and a hospital following an eight-day jury trial involving allegations that the physicians failed to appropriately treat sepsis caused by fungal infection, which allegedly caused the death of a patient.

The case involved a 55 year-old female who presented for consultations with an oncologist and surgeon after being diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer. She also had a long-standing medical history of strokes and other chronic problems. Before the patient decided to undergo treatment, she was emergently admitted to the hospital with altered mental status, fever, and other potential signs of sepsis, which likely came from the urinary tract. The defendants treated the patient with antibiotics, and she improved to the point that she was able to be discharged. Soon after her discharge, however, the patient’s symptoms returned, and she was readmitted. She was again treated with antibiotics, but her course worsened. She suffered a heart attack and deteriorated before passing away.

Plaintiff alleged that while the defendants successfully treated the patient for her bacterial infection, they ignored the fact that the patient also had a fungal infection, which could not be treated with antibiotics. Rather, the patient required anti-fungal medications, which she should have received as early as the first admission. To support this contention, they argued that the defendants should have taken into account a pathology report that showed that a clot found in the patient’s urine was made up of both fungus and bacteria, and that the defendants should have considered a urine culture that showed fungus.

The defense argued, with the support of an infectious disease physician, that the earlier findings of fungus were merely incidental and did not require treatment. Once the defendants found actual evidence of a fungal infection in the form of a positive blood cultures, they immediately took the appropriate action, which included treatment with anti-fungal medication. The defense successfully argued that by the time it was appropriate to treat the patient, her condition had become so dire that her death was inevitable and not caused by any alleged negligence.

After deliberations that spanned three days, the jury found that the internal medicine physician was not negligent. The jury also found that while the infectious disease physician and hospital acted negligently, that negligence was not a factual cause of any injuries. The result of these findings was a defense verdict.

Defense Verdict on Behalf of Hospital

Anthony P. DeMichele and Jaime N. Johnson recently obtained a defense verdict in a medical malpractice case on behalf of a hospital following a four-day jury trial.

In July 2010, the 24-year old plaintiff presented to the defendant hospital with complaints of abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with symptomatic cholelithiasis and underwent a laparascopic cholecystectomy. She returned to the defendant hospital five days after discharge and was diagnosed with a perforation of the bile duct. Plaintiff underwent an endoscopic retrograde cholantio-pancreatography (ERCP) at the hospital. Days later, a duodenal perforation was discovered.

Plaintiff alleged that there was a delay in diagnosis of the biliary leak and duodenal perforation, which caused her to develop several complications, including a large abdominal hernia. The defense maintained that the complications plaintiff endured were known risks of the procedures and were due to no fault of the defendants

After a two day jury deliberation, the jury found in favor of the defendants.

Defense Verdict on Behalf of Emergency Room Physician

Michael O. Pitt recently obtained a defense verdict on behalf of an emergency room physician in a nine day jury trial involving allegations of a failure to diagnose an epidural abscess. 

This case involved a patient who presented to the emergency department with complaints of back pain, anxiety, fever, nausea, and vomiting.  The plaintiff had a longstanding history of drug and alcohol abuse, and admitted to treating his chronic back pain with heroin.  Shortly after his initial presentation to the emergency department his symptoms improved and he was diagnosed with acute back pain and narcotic withdrawal. 

The next day, blood cultures that were ordered in the emergency department revealed the plaintiff had methicillin resistant staph aureus bacteremia.  Although this is a treatable condition, it can be life threatening if not treated timely.  Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the hospital staff was unable to reach him on the telephone number he provided the previous day.  Further, despite increased symptoms that included weakness and tingling in the legs, the plaintiff failed to return to the emergency room as instructed. Instead, the plaintiff continued to use heroin to treat his symptoms.  The plaintiff finally returned to the emergency department the following day, and is now paralyzed from the chest down. 

The defense successfully argued that even though the emergency room physician discharged the plaintiff with a diagnosis of acute back pain and narcotic withdrawal, plaintiff’s presenting symptoms were consistent with this diagnosis.  In support of this argument, experts in emergency medicine and infectious disease were called to testify and supported this defense. 

After deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous 12 – 0 verdict, finding that the defendant physician’s treatment of the plaintiff was not negligent.  

Defense Verdict on Behalf of Surgeon and Hospital

Marshall L. Schwartz and Brett M. Littman recently obtained a verdict on behalf of a surgeon and hospital in a four day jury trial involving allegations of negligence in the performance of a laparoscopic hernia repair.

This case involved a patient who first underwent surgery to remove a mass on her appendix, which was suspicious for malignancy. Several months after this surgery, the patient developed a hernia, which the defendant-surgeon planned to repair laparoscopically.

Plaintiff alleged that when the surgeon repaired the hernia, he negligently perforated her bowel with a harmonic scalpel, which is a device that uses high-frequency vibrations to generate heat and cut through tissue. Plaintiff further alleged that the surgeon failed to properly inspect the bowel for any signs of injury. This perforation caused an infection and required a prolonged recuperation.

The defense successfully argued that even though the surgeon perforated the bowel, any such injury was a recognized risk of the procedure and did not constitute negligence. In support of this argument, the defendants called an expert in laparoscopic surgery who corroborated this defense.

The jury ultimately found that the defendant was not negligent.

Defense Verdict on Behalf of Thoracic Surgeon

Marshall L. Schwartz and Brett M. Littman recently obtained a defense verdict in a medical malpractice case on behalf of a thoracic surgeon and hospital following a six-day jury trial.

In June 2008, after being diagnosed with lung cancer, the patient presented for surgery to remove two lobes of his lung and treat his condition. The plaintiff alleged that while the surgery was successful, the defendant failed to properly monitor his respiratory status and perform proper post-operative care. He further alleged that this led to a build-up of carbon dioxide and depleted oxygenization, which caused permanent injury.

The defense presented extensive expert testimony in both thoracic surgery and pulmonology, to show that the patient was closely monitored and received proper treatment provided by the entire medical staff, which included physicians, residents, and nurse aides. The defense further established that the patient’s injury could not have been prevented in even the best of circumstances.

After a brief deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense and found that the defendant was not negligent.

Superior Court Reverses Jury Verdict in Cardiologist’s Favor Following Appeal

Paul E. Peel recently prevailed on an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania from a judgment entered against an interventional cardiologist, his employer, and several affiliated entities.

In Emery v. Groh, M.D., et al., the plaintiff’s decedent was referred to the defendant cardiologist to undergo a diagnostic cardiac catheterization.  Prior to undergoing the procedure, the patient advised the doctor that he was allergic to nickel.  The doctor informed the patient that his treatment options included stenting of the artery and noted that it was not possible to choose an exact course of treatment without knowing the patient’s specific anatomy or taking into account his clinical situation.

Due to his allergy, the patient initially objected to the implantation of a stent containing nickel.  However, after additional discussion with his wife and the doctor, the patient agreed to undergo the catheterization procedure and gave written consent to have a stent implanted if it was necessary.

After receiving the patient’s consent, the cardiologist performed the catheterization.  During the procedure, the doctor implanted a stent containing nickel into one of the patient’s coronary arteries.

Over the next several years, the patient complained of experiencing rashes and itching in the area where the stent was placed.  He and his wife later commenced an action against the defendants alleging that the doctor failed to obtain his informed consent to undergo the catheterization and breached the standard of care by implanting a stent containing nickel in his artery.  The case proceeded to trial and resulted in a jury verdict in the plaintiffs’ favor.  Following the entry of judgment, the defendants filed an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

On appeal, the defendants asserted that the trial court erred in denying the defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because the plaintiffs failed to present sufficient medical expert testimony to meet their burden of proving that the cardiologist caused the patient any harm.  Specifically, the defendants contended that the plaintiffs’ medical expert failed to link the cardiologist’s alleged misconduct to the patient’s purported injuries.

After considering the parties’ arguments on appeal, the Superior Court concluded that the lower court erred in denying the defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.  In reaching this decision, the Superior Court held that the plaintiffs’ medical expert failed to testify with sufficient medical certainty that the cardiologist’s alleged tortious conduct caused the patient’s injuries.  The Court noted that, throughout trial and in his expert report, the plaintiffs’ expert proffered the opinion of the patient, not his own, regarding causality.  Moreover, the Court aptly noted that the plaintiffs’ expert actually acknowledged at trial that he was not sure whether the nickel stent implanted in the patient really caused the symptoms of which he complained.  Consequently, the Superior Court reversed the entry of judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor and directed the entry of judgment for the defendants.