In a California medical malpractice/wrongful death case scheduled for trial shortly, a California hospital is alleged to have intentionally covered up the real cause of a patient’s death. The lawsuit alleges that the hospital and the patient’s surgeon conspired to deflect their responsibility in the death of the patient by hiring an outside firm to perform a private autopsy and then file a false report regarding the cause of death. The patient’s wife and child are seeking not only compensatory damages for medical malpractice and wrongful death but also punitive damages based on alleged fraud, conspiracy, and cover-up, which the defendants deny.
The 42-year-old man had surgery to remove a cervical disc on January 27, 2010. A known complication from the surgery is a post-operative hematoma that can develop and expand to the point where it obstructs the trachea, the patient is unable to breathe, and death by suffocation may result if not timely and appropriately diagnosed and treated.
About 12 hours after the man’s surgery, he complained that his breathing felt different to him and the nurse documented a sudden change in the man’s voice.
About 2 a.m. on January 28, 2010, the nurse contacted the patient’s surgeon by telephone to advise him regarding his patient’s difficulty in swallowing, changes in breathing, and swelling. The surgeon allegedly advised the nurse that the patient had a sore throat and ordered an ice pack and numbing gel.
About ten minutes after the nurse’s telephone conversation with the patient’s surgeon, the nurse was so concerned about the patient’s condition that she called for the hospital’s rapid response team to evaluate the man. The rapid response team provided the man with oxygen and medicated him for anxiety before they left his room. At 2:30 a.m., the man was noted to be blue in his face and he was found to be without a pulse. Despite subsequent efforts to revive him, the man died.
The outside pathologist who performed the autopsy at the hospital’s request concluded in his report that the man had died from a fatty liver. The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice/wrongful death lawsuit claims that the hospital arranged for the autopsy to convince the wife that her husband’s death was not due to medical negligence. The lawsuit also alleges that the surgeon colluded with the hospital by telling the wife that the autopsy did not find bleeding, blood clots, or swelling.
The man’s wife became suspicious and arranged for a second autopsy, which concluded that her husband had died from an expanding post-operative hematoma that obstructed his airway.
The plaintiffs contend in their medical malpractice/wrongful death lawsuit that a small surgical incision could have prevented the man’s suffocation death if timely performed after a proper diagnosis.
The defendant hospital denies that its staff was negligent or that any cover-up was undertaken. The defendant surgeon denies that he was advised by telephone by the patient’s nurse that the man had a change in his voice, that he was complaining that his breathing felt different to him, or that there was swelling around the surgical site.
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