$350,000 Arbitration Award for Wrongful Death - Patient Dies After Cardiac Condition Untreated

The 58-year-old decedent had a family history of cardiac disease and a medical history that included high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking until the age of 50. He had been under the care and treatment of his primary care physician for several years prior to his death.

On December 15, 1997, the decedent telephoned his physician's office with complaints of throat and nasal congestion. The next day, the decedent went to see his physician, complaining that he was "having a hard time breathing." He also complained of chest congestion, shortness of breath on exertion and a dry cough.

A physician's assistant ordered a chest X-ray and EKG, both of which were essentially normal, but during an informal exercise stress test the decedent developed audible wheezes and labored breathing.

The assistant discussed the case with the defendant primary care physician, but the defendant did not examine the decedent. Based on that discussion, the defendant thought the decedent had a respiratory infection or asthma, although he recognized that a more serious respiratory or cardiac condition had not been ruled out.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant deviated from the standard of care by failing to refer the decedent to the emergency department for further work up.

The plaintiff claimed that if the decedent had been referred to the emergency department, he would have been stabilized and worked up for serious cardiac and pulmonary conditions; he would have received treatment for his coronary artery disease; and, if the pulmonary embolus was present at the time, he would have been administered medication to break up the clot.

At arbitration, the defendant argued that given the negative findings on the chest X-ray and EKG, outpatient treatment was appropriate. The defendant presented expert testimony that the pulmonary embolus was not present at the time the decedent was seen in the office and did not occur until or around the time the decedent collapsed. He also presented expert testimony that immediate hospitalization would not have prevented death because there was not sufficient time for evaluation and treatment of the decedent's condition in the several hours before he died.

The plaintiff prevailed at arbitration.