In its opinion filed on January 30, 2018, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Pennsylvania Appellate Court”) affirmed a Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury’s award in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $1.5 million for the wrongful death claim and $3.5 million for the conscious pain and suffering claim arising out of the medical negligence of the defendants.
The Underlying Facts
On November 30, 2008, an 88-year-old man was transferred to the emergency department of a local hospital from a nursing home. His past medical history included dementia, hypertension, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary insufficiency.
On December 1, 2008, the man suffered cardiac arrest secondary to pneumonia, and a code was called due to pulseless electrical activity, decreased heart rate, and low blood pressure. The man was resuscitated and transferred to the ICU.
On December 2, 2008, a feeding tube was inserted and an order was placed for an x-ray to confirm proper placement. The x-ray revealed that the feeding tube had been inadvertently inserted into the man’s lung and was therefore removed. The feeding tube was then reinserted, and another x-ray was ordered to confirm proper placement. Again, the feeding tube was not properly placed.
On December 3, 2008, a resident doctor inserted a new feeding tube into the man and ordered a portable chest x-ray to confirm proper placement of the tube. In response to this order, an x-ray technologist performed a portable x-ray almost one hour later, capturing the lower chest and abdomen. This image was interpreted by the defendant radiologist, who incorrectly read the study as showing termination of the feeding tube in the man’s stomach when, in fact, it terminated in the man’s left lung.
The resident doctor then ordered administration of a feeding solution (Jevity) at 10 cc’s per hour for the first eight hours. The first feed was administered at approximately 11:00 p.m. on December 3, 2008. From 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. on December 4, 2008, 50 cc’s of Jevity and 420 cc’s of flush were administered through the feeding tube into the man’s lung.
The man’s condition deteriorated. At 4:38 a.m. on December 4, 2008, the resident doctor placed a STAT order for a portable chest x-ray to aid in the diagnosis/treatment of pneumonia. The x-ray was completed at 4:46 a.m. but was not read by a radiologist until 8:13 a.m., at which time the radiologist recognized the feeding tube was positioned in the man’s left lung. The man had already been pronounced dead at 7:11 a.m.
The plaintiff filed a Pennsylvania wrongful death and survival action lawsuit alleging medical malpractice. At the conclusion of a five-day jury trial, the Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the total sum of $5,000,000 ($1.5 million for the wrongful death claim and $3.5 million for the survival action), and apportioned liability as follows: 25% against the hospital and 75% against the defendant radiologist. Delay damages were added in the amount of $947,157.53, resulting in a total verdict in the amount of $5,947,157.53. The defendants appealed.
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court rejected the defendants’ argument that the jury’s verdict was excessive or shocking. The Pennsylvania Appellate Court favorably noted that the trial court cited the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony regarding the man’s suffering during the night of December 3rd into the morning of December 4th. The expert testified that the man was conscious throughout the course of the night, during which time he became increasing tachycardic, began huffing and puffing due to fluid building up in his lungs, started wheezing, became short of breath due to suffocation, and eventually suffered cardiac arrest. The expert described the man’s death as just like a drowning: “[The man was] experiencing feelings of suffocation, agitation, pain. The wheezing, the course [sic] breaths, trying to cough, all that sort of stuff produces more and more pain and suffering, just like a drowning.”
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court held that the Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury’s $1.5 million award for the man’s wrongful death claim and its $3.5 million award for his conscious pain and suffering caused by the medical negligence of the defendants fell “within the uncertain limits of fair and reasonable compensation.”
Source Tong-Summerford v. Abington Memorial Hospital, 2018 PA Super 16
If you or a family member may have been harmed due to a misread x-ray in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the United States, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your family member in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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