When a father of five went to the emergency room (not in Oregon) on May 31, 2009, with chest and shoulder pains, two physicians, a resident and an attending, evaluated his case. What happened there and over the next five months led to a medical malpractice and wrongful death claim filed on behalf of his children. Last week, after several days of testimony, a jury awarded his family $6.4 million in damages.

The patient had a history of an irregular heartbeat. The pains started when he was playing basketball earlier in the day. According to court documents, initial blood tests indicated that the patient had an elevated white blood cell count, which is often linked with a heart attack. The doctors ordered further tests. What they did not order were tests that are typically used to verify the presence of heart disease.

A few hours later, he was discharged with a diagnosis of pneumonia and syncope (fainting).

At the end of August, the patient had a seizure, again following a basketball game. He went into shock before he could be transported to the hospital. Once at the hospital, he was put on a mechanical ventilator. He never again breathed on his own.

The diagnosis this time was an acute heart attack with cardiac arrest. The lack of oxygen had also left him with a brain injury. He left the hospital about six weeks later, but only to go to a long-term care facility; he died a month later. He was 38 years old.

The jury found that the two doctors and the hospital were negligent, and that their negligence led to the patient’s death. Court documents indicate that the jury attributed 88 percent of the fault to the attending physician, 10 percent to the resident and 2 percent to the hospital. The award included compensatory damages and damages for pain and suffering.

The patient’s children are between 1 and 8 years old.

Source: Pennsylvania Record, “Phila. jury renders $6.4 million plaintiffs’ verdict in medical malpractice, wrongful death case,” Jon Campisi, June 7, 2012