On the morning of January 26, 2009, a 47 year-old office manager presented to a hospital in upstate New York, complaining of chest pain and nausea. She was examined by a physician who prescribed painkillers and a medication to relieve the nausea. Several hours later, she underwent an electrocardiography and the doctor determined that further observation was necessary.
The patient’s pain worsened and three hours later she underwent another electrocardiography which the physician concluded yielded reassuring results. However, during the evening of January 26, results from a blood test were received which revealed an abnormally high level of troponin, which proliferates when a myocardial infarction occurs. Medication was prescribed and a cardiac consultation was requested.
The following morning, the patient’s family consulted with an independent cardiologist who concluded that the patient required immediate and different cardiac care. She was transferred to another hospital where it was determined that she was indeed suffering a myocardial infarction.
Treatment was rendered but the patient suffered extensive damage to her heart. She will require the implantation of a defibrillator and a pump and will eventually require a heart replacement.
The case went to trial against the hospital that failed to diagnose and treat the myocardial infarction in its early stages (the plaintiff discontinued the case against the physicians for whom the hospital is nevertheless vicariously liable). The plaintiff contended that the myocardial infarction was in fact occurring upon presentation to the first hospital and that the electrocardiographies revealed cardiac distress upon which the doctors and hospital failed to take remedial action. The plaintiff further argued at trial that prompt treatment would have prevented the extensive, residual damage suffered. On October 1, 2012, a jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded damages in the amount of $144,690,039.00 to cover plaintiff’s past and future pain and suffering and past and future medical costs.
While it is possible, and perhaps likely, that the Appellate Division will reduce the award finding that it “deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation”, the large verdict sends a clear message to doctors and hospitals that they must be hyper-vigilant in assessing patients, especially those who are exhibiting chest pains and the hallmarks of a heart attack. The failure to do so can result in disastrous, life-altering consequences for the patient, the consequences for which no amount of money can completely compensate.
Furthermore, patients and their families should be comfortable seeking a second opinion from an independent or private practitioner if there is any doubt as to the care or treatment being rendered.