O'Brien and Ryan, LLP - Attorneys at Law

Defense Verdict on Behalf of Urologist

Michael O. Pitt, Christine N. Dantonio, and paralegal Elizabeth Carson-Nave recently received a defense verdict on behalf of a urologist in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. The matter involved a 60-year old male who underwent robotic-assisted radical prostatectomy for treatment of prostate cancer. There were no complications to the surgery. On the evening of the surgery, the patient lost consciousness briefly and this was attributed by a hospitalist as a likely vasovagal response. An EKG was obtained and was abnormal, but unchanged from a pre-operative EKG study. The patient was transferred from the medical-surgical floor to telemetry for closer monitoring.

Over the next two days, the patient had a distended abdomen along with several bouts of nausea and vomiting attributed to a post-operative ileus. Additionally, labs were drawn each morning and the patient's hemoglobin level was observed to drop from 11.6 on the date of surgery, to 10.0 on post-op day one, and then to 8.8 on post-op day two. The patient's pulse, blood pressure, oxygen saturations and urine output remained normal. After taking a walk around the unit in the early afternoon of post-op day two, the patient complained of indigestion, suddenly lost consciousness and coded. Resuscitative measures were unsuccessful. On autopsy, the medical examiner found 900 mL of blood in the patient's retroperitoneum, as well as moderate to severe three-vessel coronary artery disease that was previously undiagnosed. Per the medical examiner, the patient's cause of death was coronary artery disease in the setting of complications of prostatectomy.

The decedent's spouse filed suit under the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death and Survival Acts. Plaintiff alleged that the urologist failed to recognize the falling hemoglobin levels as a sign of active internal bleeding that caused decreased oxygen carrying capacity to the heart and her husband's untimely death. Plaintiff presented expert testimony by a urologist and a cardiologist who claimed that had the urologist ordered a cardiology consult, CT scan of the abdomen, and serial blood draws, the patient would have received a blood transfusion and lived.

The defense presented testimony by experts in urology and critical care. These experts established that the urologist acted within the standard of care, and more specifically, that a blood transfusion was not indicated in the patient because his vital signs were stable and his hemoglobin level never fell below 8.0. Additionally, evidence was presented that the patient's death was not caused by reduced oxygen carrying capacity from blood loss, but rather, that the patient died from a sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
Following approximately 8 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the urologist.

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