On June 12, 2003, plaintiff's decedent was admitted to a local community hospital with abdominal pain and ascites. She was initially diagnosed with acute hepatitis of unknown etiology.
The defendant gastroenterologist, after ruling out common causes of liver dysfunction, questioned whether the decedent had Budd-Chiari Syndrome, an extremely rare disease involving occlusion of the hepatic veins draining the liver. For that reason, the defendant gastroenterologist ordered a liver biopsy to rule in or rule out Budd-Chiari Syndrome and to assist in formulating a treatment plan.
However, the liver biopsy could not be performed secondary to a coagulopathy that was identified on blood work. As a result, the defendant gastroenterologist recommended transfer to a nearby hospital, where a transjugular liver biopsy could be performed. The decedent’s family declined the recommendation, and instead undertook research which ultimately led to a request to transfer the decedent to a different hospital. Unfortunately, no beds were available at the hospital of choice. After several days, the decedent was discharged with instructions to present to this hospital through the Emergency Department, where she would be admitted.
On June 23, 2003, the decedent was admitted to this hosptial. The following day, a transjugular liver biopsy was performed, which confirmed the diagnosis of Budd-Chiari Syndrome. Subsequently, an open liver biopsy was performed, which determined that the decedent was not a candidate for a liver transplantation because she had minimal necrosis and no cirrhosis. As a result, she was scheduled for a TIPS procedure, which was performed on June 30, 2003. Shortly after the TIPS procedure, the decedent became septic, leading to multi-system organ failure and her death on July 2, 2003.
Plaintiff alleged that the defendant gastroenterologist was negligent in failing to timely transfer the decedent to a tertiary care center, where she could receive a “team approach” for her Budd-Chiari Syndrome. Plaintiff claimed that, as a result, time was lost which prevented the health care providers at the second hospital from saving the decedent’s life. The defense contended that the defendant gastroenterologist acted within the standard of care in timely diagnosing Ms. Ellis’ Budd-Chiari Syndrome and appropriately recommended transfer to a local hospital where the decedent could have received all necessary treatment, including a transjugular liver biopsy and a TIPS procedure.
In closing argument, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award $16 million. After approximately two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant gastroenterologist.