In its opinion delivered on March 29, 2017, the Arkansas Court of Appeals “(Appellate Court”) ruled that there was no error committed by the trial judge during a medical malpractice jury trial, and therefore affirmed the jury’s defense verdict. The Arkansas medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit involved the medical treatment that a 42-year-old obese patient had received from the defendant emergency room physician that the plaintiff alleged fell below the standard of care, which led to his death from pneumonia (an autopsy determined that the man had died as a result of an enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy) due to obesity, with acute bronchopneumonia).
The Underlying Facts
The decedent’s past medical history included morbid obesity, severe obstructive sleep apnea, and other medical conditions for which he had been treated by his primary care physician. In December 2009, the decedent visited his primary care physician for a checkup and had a chest x-ray that was unremarkable.
On January 13, 2010, the decedent went to his primary care physician, complaining of flu-like symptoms for which his primary care physician prescribed Tamiflu, cough medicine, Cipro, and Darvocet. The decedent’s condition improved somewhat but he still had a cough and he began to experience pain on his right side.
On January 15, 2010, the defendant’s mother drove him to a hospital emergency room, where he complained of severe abdominal pain, coughing with recent flu, pain in his right ribs, and that his cough produced blood. He was found to be alert and oriented, his breathing was not labored, and his temperature and blood pressure were normal, but he registered a below-normal pulse-oximeter reading and elevated respiration and pulse rates.
The defendant emergency room physician examined the decedent, who complained of a cough along with chest and abdominal pain worsened by a deep breath, and detected rhonchi, which was consistent with bronchitis, but did not detect a rales sound, which would have been consistent with pneumonia. The defendant emergency room physician diagnosed the decedent with muscle strain from coughing and prescribed Lortab. The decedent’s mother insisted that her son have a chest x-ray, which was taken and transmitted electronically to the hospital’s computer system.
The defendant emergency room physician testified that he viewed the decedent’s x-ray on the ER’s computer terminal and determined that the decedent had atelectasis but not pneumonia. The defendant emergency room physician conveyed that information to a nurse who told the decedent that the x-ray was fine and that he could leave, which he did. Later that morning, a hospital radiologist read the decedent’s chest x-ray and observed an enlarged cardiac silhouette and evidence suggesting pneumonia or atelectasis, which information was not told to the decedent or the defendant emergency room physician. Late that afternoon, the decedent was found dead in his home by his mother.
On December 14, 2010, the decedent’s family sued the emergency room physician and the hospital for medical negligence and wrongful death, alleging that the defendant emergency room physician failed to properly assess, examine, and diagnose the decedent during the emergency room visit and that he should have admitted him to the hospital for treatment of pneumonia. The defendant hospital and its insurers settled for $400,000 and were dismissed from the Arkansas medical malpractice wrongful death case, with prejudice. The case was then tried against the defendant emergency room physician only.
The Arkansas medical malpractice jury returned a defense verdict, and the plaintiff appealed. The plaintiff argued on appeal that the trial court impermissibly limited cross-examination of the defendant and that other proffered evidence was not allowed to be admitted into evidence.
The Appellate Court found that the trial judge did not commit reversible error and therefore affirmed the defense verdict.
Source Hagar v. Shull, 2017 Ark. App. 185.
If you or a family member suffered serious injury as a result of emergency room misdiagnosis in Arkansas or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a local medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your emergency room medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your family member in a medical malpractice case against the hospital and/or the emergency room physician, if appropriate.
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