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.
The outcome of this case is an example of the complicated issues that arise in medical negligence cases and that require the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney.