On March 6, 2019, three defendant physicians agreed to settle a medical malpractice case in which they were alleged to have failed to timely diagnose and treat a hospital patient’s aortic aneurysm in the emergency department, which led to his death. The defendant emergency room attending physician agreed to pay $1.25 million, the defendant radiologist agreed to pay $750,000, and the defendant hospitalist agreed to pay $350,000 toward the settlement.
The 53-year-old man had gone to the hospital emergency room on October 18, 2013, complaining of sudden onset of upper abdominal pain that radiated into his back and was associated with nausea and vomiting. The defendant emergency room attending physician ordered a chest CT angiogram with contrast but later changed the order to not use contrast due to concern about an elevated level of creatine that caused concern about kidney function. The CT scan was completed without contrast and was read by the defendant radiologist who noted an aortic aneurysm that was five centimeters. Nonetheless, the defendant emergency room attending physician alleged that the defendant radiologist told him that there was no acute process and that he was never told about the aortic aneurysm.
After the defendant emergency room attending physician admitted the man to the hospital, the patient’s medical care was turned over to the defendant hospitalist. Later that day, a CT scan with contrast was performed that showed an extensive aortic tear and the presence of blood in the pericardial sac around the heart. The decision was made to transfer the man to another hospital for surgical repair, but the man became unstable before he could be transported and resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. The man died at the original hospital ten hours after he arrived in the ER.
The medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that the defendants’ medical negligence led to the unnecessary delay in diagnosing the man’s aortic aneurysm which could have been sucessfully treated if he had been timely diagnosed and transferred to another hospital for surgery. The medical malpractgice lawsuit also alleged that it was medically negligent to decide to transfer the man to a hospital in Philadelphia instead of a closer hospital in New Jersey where the life-saving surgery could have been performed.
In particular, the medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that the defendant emergency room attending physician breached the standard of care by failing to order the first CT scan with contrast because a non-contrast chest CT scan could not reasonably be relied upon to diagnose or rule out an aortic dissection. The standard of care was breached by the defendant radiologist by his failure to promptly contact the defendant emergency room attending physician to advise him regarding his findings from the first CT scan, according to the medical malpractice lawsuit.
The defense reportedly argued that even if the man’s aortic dissection would have been diagnosed within three hours after his arrival at the hospital, it would have taken six to ten hours to transfer him to another hospital for life-saving heart surgery. Therefore, the defense argued, the man could not have been saved.
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