The decedent, a 32-year-old male, presented to the emergency department with a chief complaint of chest pain radiating to the left side of the back and was evaluated by the defendant, an emergency room physician.
The patient rated the pain as a six on a scale of one to ten. When the defendant spoke with the patient, the patient indicated that his chest and back pain was improving, but that he also was experiencing epigastric pain. The decedent also reported that, the day prior, he had worked out on an abdominal machine and ate a heavy meal. After an EKG ruled out a myocardial infarction, the defendant diagnosed gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is heartburn, and instructed the patient to return to the emergency department if his condition worsened.
The patient collapsed at work three days later and died, the cause of death being an aortic dissection.
It was undisputed that the patient had an aortic dissection at the time of the emergency department presentation, but the defense argued that the patient’s complaints and symptoms were extremely atypical of aortic dissection.
The defense further argued that the patient was taking the workout supplement Ephedra but failed to report his Ephedra use to the defendant. Defense counsel maintained that, had the defendant known about the decedent’s Ephedra use, the defendant would have consulted a cardiologist and had the patient admitted to the hospital.
Defense counsel further argued that, by increasing the blood pressure, the Ephedra use contributed to causing the aortic dissection.
During closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award the plaintiff, the decedent’s mother, $13.5 million. The jury deliberated for 1.5 hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendants.