Recently a family placed their trust in our firm after their 19-year-old son met his demise hours after being discharged by a local emergency department. They came seeking answers not provided by the hospital regarding the cause of their son’s death.
The young man went to the emergency room after suffering for a few days from intense headaches and vomiting. In the ER, he was examined by a physician’s assistant, not a medical doctor. Emergency department protocol allows a physician’s assistant to see patients who present with non-life-threatening conditions. Emergency department caregivers are asked to consider various “differential diagnoses” and to rule out the most severe potential conditions through diagnostic testing, physical examinations and laboratory results.
The tragedy in this case occurred because the hospital staff failed to recognize all potential causes for the young man’s headache. They wrongfully attributed the headache to dehydration from the vomiting while diagnosing the young man as suffering from “gastritis” (stomach upset). In actuality, the young man’s autopsy determined the vomiting was a result of swelling in his brain. The physician’s assistant did not have the depth of knowledge and experience to recognize the more serious potential cause of the symptoms. In this case, the diagnosis was further misplaced because the young man did not exhibit other symptoms of “gastritis.”
Prior to resolving the case, the hospital argued that the care given was reasonable because the symptoms were not consistent with swelling in the brain and because the young man reported feeling “better” prior to discharge. Only after extensive litigation and disclosure of extraordinary medical experts, was the hospital forced to resolve the case. Partner, Joe Marasco handled the case and reflected that, while the outcome of the case cannot bring back our client’s loved one, the objective of “compelled accountability” was achieved. Among other things, the family expects to establish a memorial foundation to honor their son and keep his memory alive for years to come.