On November 4, 2013, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld a verdict in the amount of $12,951,884.74 (which includes the jury’s verdict, delay damages, and post-judgment interest) in favor of the Estate of a man who had died as a result of the delay in medical treatment at a hospital.
A prior medical malpractice jury had awarded $2.5 million to the Estate for wrongful death but did not award an amount for the Estate’s survival action. The trial court in that previous case granted a new trial limited to damages on the survival action, which resulted in the subsequent jury’s verdict as stated above. The hospital appealed that verdict.
The Underlying Facts
A 24-year-old man initially sought treatment at a hospital in Huntington, West Virginia, after suffering sustained, severe headaches. Diagnostic imaging at the hospital revealed a mass in the left side of his brain, which doctors there diagnosed as glioblastoma multiforme (an aggressive brain tumor), with a differential diagnosis of brain abscess. The man was transferred to a Pennsylvania hospital where a neurosurgeon concurred in the diagnosis of glioblastoma, with a differential diagnosis of brain abscess. The neurosurgeon scheduled the man for surgery at 7:30 a.m., two days later.
While waiting for surgery in the hospital’s neurosurgical unit on the following day (the day before the scheduled surgery), the man had uneven pupil size and experienced substantial pain that was treated with narcotic pain medications and an anti-seizure medication. Shortly after 1 a.m. the next day (the day of the scheduled surgery at 7:30 a.m.), the medical records indicated that the man’s left eye was fixed and dilated, indicating escalating pressure on the brain which, if not treated on an emergency basis, could lead to brain herniation and death. The nurse assigned to take care of the man called the neurosurgeon at home regarding the man’s condition.
The nurse stated that she advised the neurosurgeon during their telephone conversation that the man’s pupil was fixed and dilated, but the neurosurgeon alleged that he was told only that the man’s pupils were uneven, meaning that the man’s condition was unchanged. The neurosurgeon did not come to the hospital or order emergency treatment for the man’s condition based on the telephone call.
The man’s condition continued to deteriorate until both pupils were fixed and dilated at 6:00 a.m. that morning, at which time the nurse again called the neurosurgeon, who was on his way to the hospital. The man lost consciousness and was placed on life support. Despite two surgical procedures that day to relieve the pressure on the man’s brain, he never regained consciousness and died within twenty four hours.
During surgery, it was discovered that the man did not have a glioblastoma but rather had a fast growing brain abscess that was not timely or properly treated, resulting in brain herniation.
The man’s Estate filed the medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital only, alleging that the neurosurgeon, the nurse, and other hospital staff had committed medical malpractice that led to the man’s death. The parties to the Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawsuit agreed that there was no medical negligence prior to 1:00 a.m. (when the man’s left eye was noted in the medical records to be fixed and dilated) and the defendant hospital did not contest that had medical personnel adequately intervened following the man’s development of a fixed and dilated left pupil, he would not have died but would merely have suffered a vision deficit in his left eye.
If you or a loved one in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state suffered serious injuries (or worse) as a result of possible medical malpractice, you should promptly contact a Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and file a medical malpractice claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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