A 36-year-old woman who worked as a CPA at a public university had been a long-time patient of a large multi-specialty medical practice. She went to the primary care division and was seen by a physician who had not treated her before. This physician was a specialist in internal medicine with a subspecialty in infectious disease. The patient’s blood pressure was 60/40 sitting and 78/40 laying down. She had a temperature of 96.3 and a pulse rate of 116, and she was described as “a very ill-appearing, pale white female.” Despite the fact that low blood pressure, elevated heart rate and low body temperature are suggestive of a life-threatening condition known as sepsis, the physician diagnosed “dehydration” and administered fluid. Her blood pressure increased to 100/50, and she was sent home with instructions to call if she did not improve.
She did call the next morning at 9:25. She told the nurse she spoke with that she had a chronic cough that was productive and yellow, chest pain from coughing, no relief from cough medicine and an ongoing headache. The doctor who had previously seen her was told of the patient’s call and symptoms, but rather than asking to see the patient, she called in a prescription cough medicine. The patient called again at 3 that afternoon and reported that she was having trouble breathing. She spoke with the same nurse. The physician claimed she was never made aware of that second call. The nurse did not instruct our client to come into the office or go to the emergency room, but rather scheduled an appointment for the next day. The next morning, our client’s husband took her to the emergency room. She was extremely short of breath and disoriented and was found to have bilateral pneumonia secondary to the bacterium streptococcus pneumonia. She died during the early morning hours on of the following day.
Martin & Jones filed suit on behalf of this young woman’s family and deposed all of the doctors and nurses involved in her care. Even though the defendant doctor was board-certified in internal medicine and infectious disease, she testified under oath that she had not received any special training in treating sepsis while studying infectious disease. Our lawyers contacted the director of her medical school infectious disease residency program who agreed to serve as an expert, and in that doctor’s deposition, he testified that the defendant physician had in fact been trained in sepsis and that the care provided by the defendant was malpractice. The case was settled for $1.76 million soon after mediation.
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