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Death of Elderly Man Results in $1.7 Million Philadelphia Verdict When a Ventilator Mucus Plug Suffocates Him

The Estate of 77 year old man was awarded $1.7 million by a Philadelphia jury after he slowly suffocated on Ventilator with a mucus plug that went untreated. Simple proper suctioning by his nurses would have prevented his death. Temple University Hospital was found negligent through the failure of its nurses to properly care for the elderly man on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit, who was suffering from angioedema (a type of allergic reaction). The patient, who was conscious and communicated with his family and staff by writing notes, had twice given notes to his daughter telling her that he was having difficulty breathing. This information was passsed onto the nurses, who failed to provide breathing medication of Albuterol, which was ordered, and failed to provide needed suctioning of the patient. The verdict, which was unanimous, also found that the physicians caring for the patient were not negligent and attributed full responsibility to the Temple University Hospital.

Testimony included details of the two notes written to the patient’s daughter and how the information and concern about breathing was communicated to the hospital nursing staff. Later that evening, the patient was sedated and restrained, making him unable to communicate further with the nursing staff. There were admissions by the physicians that the failure to have given the breathing medication Albuterol would have been below the standard of care. The mucuc plug that formed in the breathing tube was determined to be the cause of death. Apparently, the jury interpreted all the failures as nursing staff responsibilities that were not properly fulfilled. Testimony was also presented describing how the elderly man slowly suffocated over a period of several hours, until he finally arrested and died.

Despite this verdict, defendants are planning to appeal the decision and it will likely be some time until the family sees any money. This case represents an unusual situation when an elderly individual is fully compensated for his pain and suffering resulting in his death. It is also an unusual case in that the doctors were all found not negligent, but the nursing staff and hospital were found responsible. One reason why the verdict was so high was the quality of the plaintiff, who was described as a World War II hero and three time cancer survivor, who cared for his sick wife, who was on dialysis, and did the housework and cared for his grandchildren. There were no offers to settle the case before trial.