On the morning of December 25, 2009, the patient, a 59-year old female with a history of alcohol and drug abuse, presented to a suburban hospital’s ER complaining of severe abdominal pain. She admitted to last using alcohol and cocaine two days prior.
Our client, the attending ER doctor, examined and treated the patient, and ran laboratory and diagnostic tests. The patient was diagnosed with alcohol and drug withdrawals and was discharged a few hours later in good condition. Later that evening, the patient’s husband called 911 reporting that the patient was short of breath. Upon arrival, the paramedics examined the patient and transferred her to the ambulance, where the patient became asystolic. She was pronounced dead that evening.
On autopsy, the medical examiner found that the patient’s right coronary artery and left anterior descending artery were both 100% occluded, and that her left circumflex artery was 70% occluded. The medical examiner also found a volvulus in the patient’s small bowel. The plaintiff contended that the volvulus was the cause of death, that our client failed to order a CT scan of the abdomen to diagnose the volvulus, and that our client failed to appropriately examine the patient prior to discharge.
The defendants argued that the patient’s symptoms that morning were consistent with alcohol and drug withdrawals and that our client appropriately diagnosed, treated, and discharged the patient in good condition. The defendants also argued that the patient’s severe coronary artery disease, combined with her cocaine use, was the common and sole proximate cause of both the patient’s death and the volvulus, and that the volvulus did not cause her death.
During closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $1.3 million to the patient’s widower and her three adult children. The jury returned a not guilty verdict in favor of our clients.