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Injuries: Wrongful Death
In June 2001, the plaintiff’s husband, then in his mid-40s, underwent a screening colonoscopy due to a family history of colon cancer. A 3 centimeter sessile polyp was discovered, snared and removed. There were no apparent complications, and the patient was discharged to home.
Hours later, the patient developed severe abdominal pain, became nauseated and began vomiting. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he was seen in surgical consultation by the defendant doctor. An abdominal x-ray revealed free air under the diaphragm. The history, presentation and x-ray resulted in a diagnosis of a hole in the colon. The defendant decided at 1 a.m. to place the patient on IV antibiotics and pain medication to see if the hole would heal on its own. The defendant then went home.
During the course of the night, the patient became unstable, with a drop in blood pressure and increase in heart and respiratory rates. By the time the defendant returned to the hospital, the operating room was unavailable, which led to a further delay in surgery. Once surgery commenced, the defendant opened the patient’s abdomen to discover it was “full of pus.” The abdomen was cleaned out and the hole was closed. Nevertheless, the patient’s peritonitis had progressed to sepsis (which had caused his preoperative instability), and he died the following day.
The plaintiff asserted that her husband had diffuse peritonitis at the time of presentation and that emergency surgery was required. The case was settled during litigation.