Firm Wins Defense Verdict in Lengthy Medical Malpractice Trial

Robert F. Tyler of the firm’s litigation department recently prevailed in a major complex medical malpractice case brought against one of the firm’s longstanding clients. The case involved a 48 year old man who was brought into the client’s hospital with a severe brain bleed after falling as the result of an apparent loss of consciousness. Various tests done shortly after admission disclosed cardiac abnormalities, which were ultimately felt to have been caused by the injuries resulting from the fall, rather than being the cause of the loss of consciousness and fall itself. Twenty months later, the patient died in his sleep.

At the time of his death, the patient was 50 years old and earning between $150,000 and $350,000 per year. Both before and after his hospital stay, the patient never complained of any significant medical problems and never took any sick leave. On autopsy, it was found that he had suffered a major heart attack at some point in the past, and that all of his cardiac arteries were severely clogged, with the cause of death stated as untreated cardiac problems.

The wife and the two minor daughters of the patient brought a wrongful death claim, contending that the events leading up to the fall were caused by cardiac problems, which they claimed should have been found and worked up by the hospital. The plaintiffs contended that had that taken place, the patient’s severe underlying cardiac disease would have been demonstrated, and steps would have been taken to avert the patient’s untimely death.

The trial itself involved 32 witnesses, with strongly conflicting testimony from experts in cardiology, intensive care, neurology, clinical laboratory operations, and emergency room care. Plaintiffs postulated an earnings loss of $3.9 million, and ultimately requested a total award in excess of $11.7 million. After a six week trial, the jury returned a 9-3 verdict in favor of the defense, finding that the defendant hospital had correctly interpreted the abnormalities shown on the test in question as being due to the injury caused by the fall (rather than causing the fall), and that the hospital’s workup of the patient was correct and complete. While those conclusions were and are medically correct, they were complex and were very vigorously contested by well-credentialed experts on both sides. Therefore, the fact that the jury ultimately came to appreciate the defendant’s position despite their obvious sympathy for the plaintiffs, clearly constituted a very successful result for the client.