IADC member Steve Schwegman obtained a defense verdict in a medical malpractice action on behalf of an emergency room physician. The next-of-kin of the patient alleged deviations from the standard of care arising out of care provided in March 2014 when a local police officer sought treatment at a small town emergency department for a post-operative hemorrhage in his neck and concern for airway compromise. The ED physician conferred with the neurosurgeon who performed the initial neck surgery the day before and the decision was made to transfer the patient via ALS ground ambulance to the neurosurgeon who was at a larger hospital located approximately 35 miles away. However, there were no ambulances immediately available and it was determined it would take approximately 40 minutes for another service to pick up the patient. At that point, the patient and his wife decided to leave against medical advice. The ED then cancelled the request for the ALS ground ambulance. Shortly after leaving, however, the patient had increased difficulties so asked his wife to call the local sheriff’s department to arrange an intercept with an ambulance crew at a town located between the two hospitals. The ALS crew met the patient but decided not to intubate him because he was breathing on his own and the swelling in his neck would have made for a difficult intubation.
During ambulance transport, the patient’s airway closed and the paramedics pulled over and attempted an intubation and then a surgical airway. They successfully placed a surgical airway during the second attempt. The patient then went into cardiac arrest and suffered an anoxic brain injury. He died a few days later. Plaintiff sued the ED physician as well as the treating neurosurgeon, alleging they failed to arrange for rapid transport with the most qualified personnel which, according to their experts, would have been a Life Link air ambulance. Plaintiff retained experts in the following areas: emergency medicine, neurosurgery, neurology, pathology, and economics. The demand was $3.9 million. They asked the jury to return a verdict in excess of $4 million.
After a seven day trial, the jury returned a verdict concluding the physicians were not negligent in their care and treatment of the patient.