A family claiming that doctors missed the correct diagnosis of an aortic dissection, leading to a family member’s death, reached a $2 million settlement.
John Doe, 58, went to a rural hospital emergency room on a Friday evening complaining of jaw pain, chest pain, arm and leg numbness and difficulty speaking. His symptoms suddenly disappeared after fifteen minutes, but testing was done and indicated the possibility or coronary artery disease. Doe was transferred to Kansas City hospital for specialized cardiac care. A resident doctor examined Doe (who had no other complaints aside from the fifteen minute period of previous symptoms) and ordered an echocardiogram for Doe the next morning. The echocardiogram was not performed as the resident had ordered, as the echo lab was not usually open on the weekends. However, since Doe saw a cardiologist that morning, nurses assumed that it was not necessary to perform the echocardiogram.
When examined Saturday morning, the doctor found that Doe’s symptoms were indicative of typical coronary artery disease and recommended that Doe remain on his current medication plan until an angiogram could be done Monday morning. After further examination, the cardiologist also noted a slight diastolic heart murmur near the left sterna border of the heart. He informed Doe and his wife that there might be a slight bacterial infection of the valve, which would explain the murmur. However, an echocardiogram was ordered for Monday to determine if there were any problems with the aorta or aortic valve to rule out “aortic incompetence due to aneurism or dissection” anyway. This condition typically leads to death within minutes. Doe died at 6 p.m. Saturday evening. Had an echocardiogram been performed Saturday morning as prescribed by the resident doctor, Doe could have had life-saving surgery.
Doe’s wife and daughter filed suit alleging the emergency room physician, resident physician, and cardiologist all missed the correct diagnosis, and that the symptoms presented should have warranted a CT scan of the chest to rule out aortic dissection. Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ cardiology expert was critical of the fact that, although the cardiologist considered aortic dissection a possibility, nothing was done to rule it out. Defendants argued that the symptoms were actually more consistent with coronary artery disease and that even if the correct diagnosis had been made, Doe would not have survived the necessary surgery.
A month before trial, the A.W. Smith Law Firm, PC secured a $2 million settlement for the family.