Plaintiff v. Defendant General Surgeon

Synopsis:

DBMS successfully obtained a verdict in favor of a general surgeon in a wrongful death action brought by the 36-year-old decedent’s husband.

The decedent presented to the emergency room with severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and tachycardia. Based on an abdominal CT scan, physical examination, and lab values suggestive of infection, the defendant surgeon diagnosed the decedent with appendicitis and recommended urgent surgery. Aware of the decedent’s history of hyperthyroidism for which the decedent had discontinued her medication six months earlier, the defendant surgeon paged the on-call endocrinologist who never responded. After giving medications to lower the decedent’s heart rate, the defendant surgeon performed a laparoscopic appendectomy without complication. The decedent arrested five hours later.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant surgeon should have delayed surgery to obtain a consultation from an endocrinologist or internal medicine physician to treat the decedent’s thyroid storm – a condition that causes end-organ failure in hyperthyroid patients who have infection and/or undergo the trauma of surgery.

The defendant surgeon argued that the decedent was not in thyroid storm before her cardiac arrest and that urgent surgery was necessary to eliminate a potential trigger of thyroid storm, the infected appendix. According to the defense experts – the only endocrinologists to testify at trial – antithyroid medications take days to weeks to lower the thyroid hormone levels in the body and, therefore, no preoperative treatment from an endocrinologist or internal medicine physician would have changed the outcome.

The plaintiff asked for $7.8 million to $ 8.5 million. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense after one hour of deliberations.