The family of a 48 year old woman who died after being given Sotalol by her cardiologists for atrial fibrilation (“afib”) was awarded $1.6 Million by a Delaware Jury on Monday, June 16, 2008. In 2003, Sandra Koch had been a dialysis patient for less than a year when she developed afib. On her third episode of afib (a very common irregular heart rhythm), Mrs. Koch was admitted to the hospital where her treating cardiologist started her on Sotalol. Evidence at trial revealed that Mrs. Koch was not told at the time the drug was prescribed that the Physician’s Desk Reference, the hospital’s drug formulary and the package insert written by the manufacturer of Sotalol all warned against using Sotalol in dialysis patients. Trial testimony further established that although patients are to be kept in the hospital and closely monitored until Sotalol is fully effective in the body (a process that takes on average 3 days in a patient who is not on dialysis and longer for dialysis patients), Mrs. Koch was discharged less than 2 days after starting Sotalol. Mrs. Koch died without warning just 6 days after her cardiologists started her on the drug.
At trial, the cardiologists did not present any expert testimony from other physicians that their use of Sotalol in Mrs. Koch while she was on dialysis was acceptable medical practice. Mrs. Koch’s family (her husband and now grown children, who were 17 and 21 at the time of her death) presented the testimony of 2 medical experts (a cardiologist and a nephrologist, or kidney specialist) that the use of Sotalol was unacceptable in her case. The defendant cardiolgoists did present expert testimony that Sotalol was not the cause of Mrs. Koch’s death, instead attempting to blame it on a variety of other medical conditions from which Mrs. Koch suffered or had suffered previously (but admitting at the same time that Sotalol was a “possible” cause of her death). The medical experts testifying on behalf of the Koch family testified that they could exclude all other causes of death because she was being successfully treated for these conditions, none of which would cause sudden death. Further, the cardiology expert who testified for the Kochs explained to the jury that Mrs. Koch had evidence of a deadly heart rhythm known as Toursades de Pointes (or “turning of the screw”) on the heart monitor strips taken by the paramedics just prior to her death. He explained that this arrhythmia occurs in patients having an adverse reaction to Sotalol.
After 5 1/2 days of trial, the jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours before returning a verdict of $1.6 Million for Mrs. Koch’s husband and 2 children.