Plaintiff v. Defendant Anesthesiologist

Synopsis:

DBMS successfully defended an anesthesiologist in a wrongful death jury trial based on accusations that he failed to transfer a patient to the hospital after an outpatient gallbladder surgery.

The patient, who was a 54-year-old woman, went to an ambulatory surgery center for a laparoscopic cholecystectomy to remove her gallbladder. The procedure was performed in the morning and the patient was discharged by the anesthesiologist in the afternoon after spending more than four hours in the post-anesthesiology care unit.

The next morning, the patient experienced intense abdominal pain, vomited several times and was transported by ambulance to the hospital. Upon arrival to the hospital, the patient was in respiratory distress and was ultimately intubated and later placed on life support. The patient was found to have a perforated small bowel and underwent surgical repair that same day.

Two and a half weeks later, the patient’s family directed the hospital to end life support, and she passed away.

Demanding $7 million in wrongful death damages and unspecified survival damages, the plaintiff argued that the patient’s bowel was perforated during the outpatient gallbladder surgery and the anesthesiologist negligently failed to transfer the patient to the hospital for further work-up and management. According to the plaintiff, the patient should not have been discharged when she was, and the anesthesiologist should have performed an abdominal examination with physical palpitation, which would have revealed tenderness and guarding, thus ensuring detection of the perforation.

DBMS countered that even if an abdominal examination with physical palpitation had been performed, it would not have yielded any actionable results because the patient had just undergone abdominal surgery. The defense introduced evidence which showed that the patient did not have any objective signs of a perforated bowel following the procedure, such as tachycardia or a drop in blood pressure, and she was in stable condition when discharged from the surgery facility.

The defense also presented testimony which disputed causation, including the likelihood that the bowel perforation occurred due to pressure in the small bowel from the patient’s severe vomiting the following morning, instead of during the surgical procedure. Furthermore, most patients who have a perforated bowel make a full recovery, so the cause of death was most likely the patient’s extreme, unmediated immune response to the perforation.

After a two-week trial in DuPage County, the jury found the anesthesiologist not guilty.