An apparent lack of communication between health care providers proved nearly fatal for a Maine man, to whom a jury recently awarded $1.785 million in a medical malpractice claim.
The patient, 71, and his wife, 63, from Millinocket, alleged harm to his health could have been prevented had health care workers acted according to professional industry standards – which is the proof burden required in these cases. The couple sought between $3 million and $3.7 million in damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress and permanent damage to patient’s heart resulting from a months-long delay in treatment in 2010 for a strep infection. In the eight months between when the patient was first seen and when he had to undergo emergency open heart surgery, the infection caused severe damage to the valves in his heart.
The civil trial was heard in the Penobscot Judicial Center before a Superior Court justice.
According to The Bangor Daily News, the trouble for plaintiff first began when, at age 66, he went to the St. Joseph Hospital emergency room. He’d been visiting Bangor when he started to experience shortness of breath. He’d also had an ongoing fever and he’d been fatigued in the afternoons.
Doctors in the emergency department ordered tests to determine if he had some type of infection, but the results weren’t immediately available. They did come back the next day, and a nurse later testified she called and gave him the results. However, by that point he’d been hospitalized for nearly 24 hours and states he doesn’t remember receiving the call. The notes made by the nurse indicate she told plaintiff to either come back to the emergency department or to make an appointment to see his physician in a few days. He did schedule an appointment with his doctor four days later.
However, the test results from the hospital were never forwarded to the doctor. An attorney for the hospital did not deny the facility was negligent for medical malpractice. In fact, he said in opening statements, “We did make a mistake.” The question for the jurors, he said, was to what degree others – like plaintiff’s physician – were also liable.
Plaintiff attorney argued that if the doctor had received the tests as he should have, he could have been placed on antibiotics, which would have prevented his heart damage. Eight months after that first visit to the ER, he went into cardiac arrest. He was transported first to a local hospital and then had to be flown by helicopter to a more advanced facility for emergency heart surgery.
Defendant physician accused plaintiff of providing the wrong information to the doctor when he met with him for a follow-up. Plaintiff allegedly told the doctor that the tests were negative, and the doctor stated the only mistake he made was to trust what the patient had said.
Jurors voted 8-1 that the hospital was negligent, but they also determined the patient was partially negligent as well. For this reason, the $2.1 million damage award that jurors agreed upon was reduced by $315,000. In Maine civil cases, six of nine jurors have to be on board with both the verdict and awards for damages.
Defendant hospital has stated it altered its internal procedures to make sure no similar mistakes occur in the future. Now, the hospital sends test results to family doctors and follows up with a phone call to make sure they are received.
If you are the victim of a Bangor medical malpractice, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Millinocket couple awarded $1.785M in malpractice trial, Jan. 26, 2016, By Judy Harrison, Bangor Daily News