On March 7, 2014, a Charlottesville, Virginia medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in the amount of $2 million against a hospital emergency room physician who failed to follow proper procedures after the over-50, overweight diabetic plaintiff, who had come to the emergency room complaining of chest pain, left the emergency room before the delayed results of a follow-up medical test indicated that the plaintiff should have been evaluated by a cardiologist.
Twenty-two days later, the plaintiff had a massive heart attack, requiring an angioplasty and implantation of an automatic implantable cardiocoverter defibrillator. He developed congestive heart failure after his heart attack.
The plaintiff had gone to the emergency room at 3:38 pm on November 5, 2008. A stress test weeks earlier had been read as negative even though he had significant risk factors for coronary artery disease. An initial troponin test was ordered, which was reported as normal. A troponin test measures the levels of troponin T and troponin I (proteins) in the blood, which are released when the heart muscle has been damaged, such as with a heart attack — the more damage there is to the heart, the greater the amount of troponin T and troponin I in the blood.
A follow-up, second troponin test was ordered but the results of the test from the hospital lab were significantly delayed (the results of the second troponin test were elevated). The plaintiff alleged that had the results of the second troponin test been timely reported, the emergency room physician would have seen the results and the plaintiff would have been admitted to the hospital for a cardiology consultation.
The plaintiff alleged that a nurse told him around midnight that he could leave and that if the delayed results from the second troponin test were significant, he would be called. The defendant hospital alleged that the plaintiff had eloped from the emergency room, against medical advice.
The emergency room was very busy during the plaintiff’s visit: nine other patients had visited the emergency room but had left without being seen during the six-hour period after the plaintiff had first arrived at the emergency room, which represented 20% of the emergency room visitors during that period of time. Some of the hospital’s records indicated that the plaintiff had left against medical advice while other records indicated that the plaintiff had been discharged. The hospital alleged that the plaintiff had eloped from the emergency room at 9:45 pm, when nurses tried to find him in his original room, after he had been moved to a different room. The hospital’s defense of contributory negligence by the plaintiff in eloping against medical advice before the results of the delayed troponin test were reported was ultimately struck by the trial judge.
The plaintiff alleged that the emergency room physician was negligent by failing to follow up regarding the results of the second troponin test and by failing to contact the plaintiff after the results were received, to have the plaintiff return to the emergency room. The defendant emergency room physician initially stated that he had a vague recollection of receiving the results of the second troponin test and having instructed a nurse to contact the plaintiff to have him return to the hospital (which the nurses denied). The defendant emergency room physician later changed his defense and stated that he never received the results of the second troponin test.
If you or a loved one may have been injured (or worse) as a result of emergency room negligence in Virginia or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a Virginia medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your emergency room claim for you and represent you in a medical negligence claim, if appropriate.
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