$5.5 Million Medical Malpractice Award to Miller & Zois Client in a Surgical Error Death Case

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Prince George's County jury finds doctor responsible for the wrongful death.

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If the wires had been placed correctly, this would not have happened.

Last Friday, September 6, 2013, a unanimous jury in Prince George’s County awarded a $ 5.55 million dollar verdict for the Plaintiffs in a medical negligence and wrongful death case. The case was brought the daughter of the deceased and the estate of her late mother, Velda Faye Richardson.

This case dealt with the pulling of pacing wires from Ms. Richardson’s chest following open-heart coronary bypass surgery. As a precautionary measure, cardiac pacing wires are often placed on a patient’s heart at the end of bypass surgery, in the event that doctors need to regulate the patient’s heart rate while the patient recovers.

Several days after surgery, once it is determined that the pacing wires are no longer needed, they are either clipped off at skin-level and left in or they are removed. If the wires are removed, a nurse in the patient’s hospital room simply pulls the wires from the patient’s chest one at a time.

In this case, Ms. Richardson underwent cardiac bypass surgery on Tuesday, February 1, 2011. Pacing wires were placed on her heart just before the surgery was completed. In the days that followed, she recovered steadily and was scheduled to be released from the hospital the following week.

Plaintiff testified that Sunday, February 6, 2011, however, a nurse from the hospital went in to remove Ms. Richardson’s pacing wires. Minutes after they were removed, Ms. Richardson became short of breath, began bleeding profusely from the removal site, and became unresponsive. According to the nurse who pulled out her pacing wires, Ms. Richardson exclaimed to the nurse just before losing consciousness, “I think I’m dying.”

Ms. Richardson’s death was caused by the removal of the pacing wires. At trial, the evidence presented showed that when the pacing wires were pulled from her body, one or more of the pacing wires lacerated or cut her newly placed vein graft. This injury caused Ms. Richardson to bleed and prevented the heart muscle from receiving any blood. Doctors attempted emergency surgery, but they were unable to repair the damage.

Testimony at trial revealed that the Defendant surgeon had no recollection of where the wires were placed on Ms. Richardson’s heart or how many wires were used. Furthermore, neither the Defendant surgeon nor any of his surgical assistants remembered or recorded who placed the pacing wires in Ms. Richardson’s chest.

The lack of information in Ms. Richardson’s medical chart presented challenges for both sides. The Defendants used the lack of information to argue that there was no proof the wires were placed incorrectly, while the Plaintiffs argued otherwise. Plaintiff’s additionally pointed to Ms. Richardson’s death certificate which had been filled out by the Defendant surgeon and clearly indicated that death was caused by “bleeding from graft injury as a result of pulling pacing wires.” In the end, the Plaintiffs’ bottom line resonated with the jury: “If the wires had been placed correctly, this would not have happened.”

Plaintiff’s counsel, Rodney M. Gaston, who fought for this woman and her mother's memory from the very beginning, said, "The tragic reality is that the pacing wires were not mandatory and could have been left in Ms. Richardson’s chest. But the jury rightfully held the surgeon accountable for the improper placement of the pacing wires.”

Why was there no settlement in this case? The doctor's insurance company made no offer to resolve this claim, either before or after suit.

The case is Davis v. Lakhanpal. The P.G. County case number for the case is CAL-12-13546.

You can learn more about bringing medical malpractice claims in Maryland here.

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