O'Brien and Ryan, LLP - Attorneys at Law

Defense Verdict for Family Doctor and Practice in Montgomery County

Tracie A. Vizza obtained a defense verdict for a family doctor and his practice, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The case involved a 32 year old man who died from massive, bilateral pulmonary emboli during a visit to a local hospital. A week prior to his trip to the hospital, the decedent called his family doctor's office, with complaints. A nurse at the practice acted as an intermediary between the patient and the doctor. The doctor prescribed antibiotics for the patient, as well as cough medication and Tylenol, which was noted in the chart. None of the patients complaints were documented in the chart, nor was a diagnosis. Further, the nurse passed away in the interim. The doctor had no recollection of what complaints were relayed to him via his nurse. The decedent's wife testified that the complaints included significant, recurrent shortness of breath and recurrent chest pain, Seven days later, the patient presented to the emergency department of a local hospital with complaints of shortness of breath and passed away 7 hours later. An autopsy revealed bilateral, massive pulmonary emboli.

Plaintiff's theory was that the decedent had been suffering from showers of pulmonary emboli as long as a month prior to his death. Plaintiff based this theory on the fact that the decedent had called his family doctor's office two weeks prior to the telephone call at issue, with complaints of shortness of breath and rib cage pain, and was told to come into the office. The decedent did go to the doctor's office and get examined by an associate of the defendant, family doctor, in the same practice, who after performing an exam and ordering tests, including a chest x-ray, diagnosed the decedent with pneumonia and treated him with antibiotics. Although plaintiff did not allege negligence in that treatment, plaintiff's experts testified that the decedent was not suffering from pneumonia at that time, but was instead experiencing pulmonary emboli for the first time. Accordingly, plaintiff alleged that the defendant, family doctor, upon getting the phone call, should have been aware, upon reviewing the decedent's chart and hearing the complaints, that the earlier diagnosis of pneumonia may have been erroneous and the decedent needed to get worked up for pulmonary emboli. The defense maintained that the pulmonary emboli were a sudden, catastrophic event.

In addition to the family doctor, the emergency room doctor, the pulmonologist, who consulted the patient in the emergency room, and the hospital were all named in the suit. After a two week trial, the jury found in favor of each of the named medical providers, after deliberating for one hour and 45 minutes.

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