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A West Philadelphia abortion clinic was closed after investigators accused Dr. Kermit B. Gosnell of killing babies born alive during late-term abortions and allowing untrained non-medical staff to medicate a patient who died after the procedure. The 69 year old doctor also worked for some years at a Delaware clinic and is alleged to have told women at that clinic who were too far along in their pregnancies to obtain an abortion under Delaware law (which has a 20 week or 5 month cut-off) to come to his Philadelphia office where he would charge them more money, but where abortions are legal up to 24 weeks (6 months) of pregnancy. Gosnell has been charged along with with 2 staff people of the Philadelphia clinic and all are currently incarcerated pending further criminal proceedings, which could include the risk of death penalty for Gosnell.

The charges include allegations that babies who Gosnell aborted lived for up to 20 minutes after the procedure, at which time Gosnell or a staff member would murder the babies. Further, it is alleged that Gosnell allowed the two charged staff members, who were not medically trained, to adminster anesthesthia and perform ultrasoundes. One staff person is reported to have created her own drug “cocktails” for patients and, in the case of the patient who died, altered medical records so that later treating physicians would not know how much of what drug she had been given. Finally, it is alled that one staff member who routinely treated patients had hepatitis, but did not take precautions, including wearing gloves, to protect patients from contracting the disease.

While Dr. Gosnell’s criminal charges are certainly a huge problem for him, it is likely that civil medical malpractice lawsuits will soon be filed by patients who treated at Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society clinic in West Philadelpia. As a licensed pediatrician who spent years practicing in a neonatal intensive care unit for infants and attending hundreds of deliveries, Dr. Aussprung is in a particularly unique position to evaluate the claims of women who received treatment at the hands of Dr. Gosnell or his employees. Dr. Aussprung has been trained to deal with newborn complications, premature birth and fetal demise, which are all issues that will likely arise in any cases filed against Dr. Gosnell.

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Dr. Beverly Carl was sued by a patient after utilizing saline breast implants rather than silicone implants during the patient’s breast enlargement surgery. Dr. Carl knew that Ms. Daly had signed a medical consent form for surgery that specifically required the sue of silicone implants. After Ms. Daly had been placed under anesthesia for the surgery, Dr. Carl realized that her office had provided her the wrong type of implants, but Dr. Carl went forward with the surgery after asking Ms. Daly’s fiance for authority to use saline implants in lieu of silicone ones. The patient, Brittany Daly, found out that the wrong type of implants were used after she awoke from surgery and was told by her fiance that Dr. Carl had asked him to agree to saline implants. Ms. Daly sued Dr. Carl, alleging that Dr. Carl should have awoken her from anesthesia to tell her about the error. The complaint also alleged that Dr. Carl continued Ms. Daly under anesthesia two hours longer than necessary in an attempt to fix the problem. Finally, the complaint alleged that Dr. Carl violated Ms. Daly’s rights by asking Ms. Daly’s fiance for authorization to change the type of implant used in the surgery.

Although the complaint against Dr. Carl did not explain why Ms. Daly wanted silicone implants, it is the case that silicone implants are generally considered to have a more “natural” look and feel than saline implants because the gel in silicone implants is similar in texture to breast tissue. In addition, it is more difficult to rupture a silicone implant than a saline one and when a saline implant does rupture, it deflates such that the problem is immediately visible whereas a silicone implant appears the same for some period of time even after rupture.

Dr. Carl agreed to a confidential settlement this summer.

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A Philadelphia jury awarded a total of $6 million to the widow of a 76 year old man who died from bedsores he developed at Jeanes Hospital in 2006. Both Jeanes Hospital and Hillcrest Convalescent Home were sued and the jury found both had been negligent in the care of Mr. Blango, who was first admitted to Jeanes (which is owned by Temple University Health System) in May, 2006 when he was 74 years old and was suffering from confusion and weakness. Mr. Blango’s widow claimed that Jeanes Hospital failed to diagnose a urinary-tract infection that worsened because it was not treated and that ultimately led to the development of severe bedsores. Mr. Blango was transferred to Hillcrest after spending a week at Jeanes and was in Hillcrest for 2 weeks, but during the stay his condition got even worse, requiring him to be transferred back to Jeanes. During his second admission, Jeanes sent Mr. Blango home after only 3 days notwithstanding the fact that his bedsores had been left to fester and he had lost 28 pounds.

Mr. Blango survived at home for 2 years, during which time he was cared for by his wife, but he died in 2008 from the bedsores that first developed in 2006 at Jeanes and worsened at Hillcrest. The jury initially awarded $1 million for Mr. Blango’s pain and suffering, Mrs. Blango’s loss of her husband and medical bills incurred by the Blangos. The jury then considered the issue of punitive damages, which can only be awarded when a jury believes that a defendant acted outrageously and recklessly. In this case, the jury awarded $1.5 million in punitive damages against Jeanes and $3.5 million against Hillcrest for the manner in which they treated Mr. Blango.

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A Lackawanna County jury found that a urologist violated the standard of care in his treatment of a 54 year old man who complained of urinary problems. Terrence Golden began seeking Dr. Milan Smolko in September, 2002 and ultimately treated with him several times over 16 months without any diagnosis of resolution of his problems. Dr. Smolko told Mr. Golden he had an inflamed and enlarged prostate, but did nothing to further evaluate his condition until June, 2003 when a bladder biopsy was ordered. Unfortunately, the pathologist at Wayne Memorial Hospital where the biopsy was sent failed to find the bladder cancer that was causing Mr. Golden’s problems. Mr. Golden continued to see Dr. Smolko until June, 2004, when he made his way to another doctor for a second opinion and was finally correctly diagnosed with bladder cancer.

By the time Mr. Golden was accurately diagnosed, the cancer had spread and Mr. Golden required surgery to remove his bladder, prostate and pieces of his urethra. Even with this radical surgery, Mr. Golden’s cancer was so advanced that it was incurable and he ultimately died in January, 2008 at the age of 60. Mrs. Golden sued Dr. Smolko, Wayne Memorial Hospital and the pathologist who looked at the bladder biopsy in June, 2003. The hospital and pathologist reached a confidential settlement with Mrs. Golden prior to trial, so the case went to the jury solely against Dr. Smolko. The jury awarded $1.88 Million to Mrs. Golden. Dr. Smolko has filed an appeal.

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A Philadelphia jury found that the death of a 51 year old man at St. Joseph’s Hospital was preventable and awarded $2.185 Million to his wife of 17 years. Zachary Jones was taken to St. Joseph’s by ambulance after complaining of chest, back and leg pains. An Emergency Room doctor, Dr. Powell, evaluated Mr. Jones within 30 minutes of his arrival at the E.R. and ordered a variety of tests to include blood work, x-rays and an echocardiogram (DEFINE). Unfortunately, the tests Dr. Powell ordered weren’t done for almost 2 hours and by then, Dr. Powell had left the hospital to attend a meeting in Horsham. When Dr. Powell left the E.R., he turned over care of Mr. Jones to Dr. Skobeloff, who had arrived for his first day on the job. Mr. Jones attorney told the jury that Dr. Powell was scheduled to be orienting Dr. Skobeloff all day, but instead left Dr. Skobeloff on his own while Dr. Powell went to the meeting.

If Mr. Jones care had been handled appropriately, his test results would have been read by the E.R. doctor caring for him as soon as they were done and then the tests would have been sent to the radiology department for an “official” read by a radiologist at some later point. Instead, Mr. Jones’ test results were not reviewed by either Dr. Powell (who had left the hospital) or Dr. Skobeloff (who was new to the E.R) and were simply sent on to radiology where the were not reviewed until the morning, by which time Mr. Jones had died. The tests showed that Mr. Jones had a dissecting aortic aneurysm (blood filling in between the layers of the heart wall and the sack that surrounds the heart) that prevented the heart from pumping properly. If the tests had been reviewed, Mr. Jones would have been transferred to another hospital for an operation that may have been able to fix his problem.

Mrs. Jones, who herself was recovering at a different hospital when Mr. Jones was taken to St. Joseph’s, sued St. Josephs and both Dr. Powell and Dr. Skobeloff for the negligent care of her husband. The hospital and doctors argued to the jury that Mr. Jones had a complicated medical history, including high blood pressure and “chronic” failures to properly take his blood pressure medication. They also argued that even if they had learned that Mr. Jones suffered from a dissecting aortic aneurysm, they wouldn’t have had enough time to transfer him to another hospital for surgery. The jury apparently rejected these arguments and concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Jones deserved the opportunity for another hospital to try to save Mr. Jones’ life. The jury found Dr. Powell 48% responsible, Dr. Skobeloff 36% responsible and St. Joseph’s 16% responsible.

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A Passaic County, New Jersey jury found for the plaintiff in a case involving an obstetrician’s failure to diagnose placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterus). Sigismondi v. Greene, PAS-L-3055-05 (N.J. Super. Ct. 2007). Plaintiff, a husband whose wife and newborn son died as a result of the doctor’s negligence, argued that the OB (Dr. Jennifer Greene) failed to perform tests to determine the cause of his wife’s abdominal pain complaints. Plaintiff further argued that given his wife’s history of a gallbladder surgery when she was 7 months pregnant, during which surgery her uterus was moved, required the OB to seriously evaluate his wife’s report of pain and pressure in her pelvis, as well as nausea and vomiting, just 3 weeks after surgery. Dr. Greene did order some tests over the phone, but did not order an ultrasound or blood tests.

Plaintiff’s wife died less than 24 hours after being sent home from the hospital after limited tests were run in response to her complaints. Plaintiff’s son was delivered by an emergency caesarian section not long after his mother collapsed from bleeding caused by the separation of the placenta from the uterus wall. Unfortunately, the ruptrue of the placenta caused deprivation of oxygen to the newborn, who suffered from seizures and was significantly brain damaged and survived after birth for a few days only because he was on life support systems. When the life support was removed, Plaintiff’s son died.

Dr. Greene argued that she ordered appropriate testing and that the Plaintiff’s wife had normal findings that suggested it was reasonable to discharge her to home, including stable fetal monitoring results and no evidence that amniotic fluid was leaking or that she was bleeding vaginally. Dr. Greene argued that the placenta had ruptured suddenly just before the Plaintiff’s wife collapsed, but an expert for Plaintiff testified that findings during the caesarian section were more consistent with a tear in the placenta occuring a day before she collapsed.

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A Pittsburgh jury awarded the estate of 24 year old Michael Rettger $2.5 million for wrongful death damages, but refused to award any money to his brothers for survival damages after stating on the jury form that “no amount of money will adequately punish” the hospital for Mr. Rettger’s death. The case began when Mr. Rettger was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center at Shadyside for a large, swelling mass in his head that was found after he complained of vomiting and headaches. Three days into his hospital stay, Mr. Rettger showed signs of a brain rupture, which his attorneys argued was ignored by the night nursing staff and/or the doctor in charge of his care.

The medical records showed that the nurse on duty noted that Mr. Rettger had a dilated pupil, which is a warning of impending brain rupture, and then called the neurosurgeon in charge of Mr. Rettger’s care. The testimony of the nurse and the neurosurgeon differed as to what occurred during the telephone call, with the nurse testifying that she told the doctor about the dilation and the doctor testifying that he was only told that Mr. Rettger’s other eye was sluggish. The nurse aruged that she followed the doctor’s instructions and the doctor argued that he would have come to the hospital immediately if the nurse had told him about the dilated pupil.

Mr. Rettger’s attorneys argued that the nurse erred in not reporting the condition to her supervisors when the doctor did not do anything in response to her call and that the hospital’s policy regarding the chain of command for nurses tending to neurosurgical patients was flawed. In addition, Mr. Rettger’s attorneys presented evidence that if Mr. Rettger had survived, he would have earned between $4-$15 million in his lifetime. The jury concluded that they believed the hospital’s “policies, culture and lack of competent supervision resulted in the death of Michael Rettger,” but awarded no survival damages to his brothers because “no amount amoung of damages” would adequately punish the hospital. Although the jury awarded $2.5 million for wrongful death damages, Mr. Rettger’s attorneys are appealing the jury’s decision as against the weight of the evidence and the legal instructions it was given prior to deliberation.

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A New Jersey jury awarded a woman $6 Million and her husband $500,000 for injuries she suffered when her OB-GYN (obstetrician) cut her bowel during a routine caesarean section (“c-section”) in 2001. The doctor testifed that a piece of Jane Bodell’s small intestine was stuck to her uterus and that while trying to separate the bowel from the uterus, he unknowingly cut the bowel. He then failed to discover that he had cut the bowel until a subsequent exploratory surgery intended to determine why Mrs. Bodell was suffering from severe abdominal pain and fever after her c-section.

As a result of the bowel being cut, the contents of the bowel leaked into the stomach, which caused infections, organ scarring and blockages of the intestines. Mrs. Bodell now requires surgery on a regular basis to keep her condition manageable. The jury awarded Mrs. Bodell $6 Million for her pain and suffering and her husband $500,00 for his “loss of consortium” claim (his loss of Mrs. Bodell’s companionship and marital services related to her injuries).

Surgical mishaps are a common source of medical malpractice cases. Although cutting the bowel or another organ during surgery is frequently a recognized complication of surgery, when detecting such a complication is delayed, it may be medical negligence.

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I recently filed a Medical Malpractice Complaint against Beebe Hospital on behalf of a woman who was declared dead, left on a guerney waiting to be taken to the morgue and then noted by a nurse (almost an hour later) to be breathing. In this case, Judith Johnson initially went to the hospital for severe indigestion and pains in her chest. In fact, she was suffering from a heart attack. During her evaluation in the emergency room, Mrs. Johnson became unresponsive and after attempts to resuscitate her, she was declared dead. Mrs. Johnson’s body was then pushed against a wall until someone could take her to the morgue. However, almost an hour later, someone noticed that Mrs. Johnson, who still had a a breathing tube down her throat, was alive.

Although Mrs. Johnson survived the incident, she suffered brain damage that has resulted in memory loss, speech problems, seizures and personality changes. In addition to malpractice claims, Mrs. Johnson has also filed a claim for the Hospital’s violation of the Emergency Medical and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”), alleging that she was not provided the same medical screening examination as other patients with similar medical conditions and/or was not appropriately stabilized.

You can read more about this case at: http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20081007/NEWS01/810070365 or http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,433830,00.html

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In a case strikingly (and frighteningly) similar to one I am currently handling, a patient’s family filed suit in California for the family of a child who was pronounced dead by a hospital and then later found to actually be alive. In both my current case and the California case, the patient suffered brain damage from the delay in necessary treatment and was forced to sue the hospital and doctors to obtain compensation for the injuries and medical care caused by the obvious negligence of the medical providers.

In the California case, which settled in April, 2008, then 20 month old Mackayla Jespersen was rushed to the emergency room after being found floating facedown in her family’s pool in November, 2003. Paramedics initially provided treatment to Mackayla at her home and then transported her to the emergency room of the Anaheim Memorial Medical Center where doctors pronounced her dead 39 minutes after arrival. Following the determination that Mackayla was dead, the doctors removed a breathing tube and left her unattended for over an hour despite the fact that Mackayla’s parents and grandmother advised doctors and nurses that they saw her breathing.

Just over an hour after Mackayla was left for dead, a police officer who was photographing the body observed her chest moving and called for help. Mackayla’s family argued in their lawsuit against the hospital and treating doctors that Mackalya should have been warmed upon arrival at the emergency room so that her vital signs could be properly monitored. The family further argued that if Mackayla had not been left unattended for over an hour, she would have recovered from the drowning event or suffered significantly less brain damage. The hospital and treating doctors argued that it was not the absence of treatment for the hour she was wrongfully declared dead, but rather the 15 minutes under water, that caused her brain injury.