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Stanzione Successfully Defends Hospital in Wrongful Death Case - Plaintiff Sought $2.6 Million

October 3, 2012

Johnson & Bell Shareholder, Sharon L. Stanzione, obtained a verdict in favor of Community Hospital, following a six-day jury trial wherein damages in excess of $2.6 million were sought. The lawsuit arose out of allegations surrounding the wrongful death of a 25-year-old patient.  The patient suffered from a condition called Hereditary Angioedema (HAE)—a very rare and potentially life-threatening genetic condition, causing episodes of swelling in various body parts. Patients with HAE often have bouts of excruciating abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting caused by swelling in the intestinal wall. The patient in this case was frequently hospitalized due to severe abdominal pain caused by her HAE condition and this was the very reason for the admission to Community Hospital.

Throughout the admission, the patient constantly complained of severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, and by day seven, the physicians decided to transfer the patient to a tertiary care center for treatment by a physician specializing in HAE. A transfer to Rush University in Chicago, Illinois, was arranged on September 11, but did not take place due to the terrorist attacks. On the morning of September 12, the patient was found unresponsive just minutes after the nurse left the room to speak with the patient’s physician. A Code Blue was immediately called, but efforts to resuscitate the patient were unsuccessful. The autopsy showed the patient died from a pulmonary embolism (PE) and this suit ensued thereafter against Community Hospital and the patient’s attending pulmonologist. At trial, plaintiffs argued that the hospital’s nurse failed to appropriately monitor the patient and recognize an emergency situation on September 12 and in turn call a physician sooner. Plaintiffs further argued that said breaches in the standard of care caused the patient’s untimely death. Attorneys Stanzione argued that the nurse acted reasonably on September 12 by performing a head-to-toe assessment of the patient, which revealed that the patient was in ten out of ten abdominal pain. The patient was in so much pain that she even refused scheduled breathing treatments. The fact that the patient had conversations and refused her breathing treatments was significant since plaintiffs argued that the patient was in a respiratory emergency. However, and as explained by defense expert, Dr. Michael Ehrie, patients in crisis do not have conversations nor do they refuse breathing treatments. Moreover, because the nursing assessments involved interaction and conversation with the patient, the nurse certainly would have recognized an emergency. Stanzione also argued that the nurse appropriately followed the physician’s care plan by working with the patient on breathing exercises, which helped the patient’s condition improve. After completing the assessments, the nurse appropriately followed all physician orders pertaining to the patient, obtained lab results, and paged the physician with a condition report. After making the page, the nurse even returned to the room to re-assess the patient and provided additional care. As far as causation, Stanzione argued that the nurse’s conduct was not a proximate cause of the patient’s death since there was no evidence that the nurse caused the PE or that the nurse should have diagnosed a PE. After deliberating for just over two hours, the jury returned a defense verdict.

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