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Unexpected Finding at Autopsy of a Perforated Duodenal Ulcer Results in Winning Verdict for a Cardiologist and Five Other Defendants Retrospectively Charged with Medical Negligence

Unexpected Finding at Autopsy of a Perforated Duodenal Ulcer Results in Winning Verdict for a Cardiologist and Five Other Defendants Retrospectively Charged with Medical Negligence

In March and April Julie Ramson and Dawn Ehrenberg won a case involving a young woman, age 22, who passed away from sepsis following a ruptured duodenal ulcer. The ulcer was not discovered until autopsy because the young woman was admitted with generalized weakness, neurological abnormalities, an abnormal EKG and hypertension. She did not complain of any GI or abdominal symptoms during the admission. She was seen by our client, the cardiologist, as well as specialists in ENT, Neurology, Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine. All were defendants along with the hospital.

The patient deteriorated after admission despite the best efforts of the primary care physician as well as our cardiologist and five other defendants. Her diagnosis was complicated by the fact that she weighed over 360 lb and, despite the doctors’ order for a CT, she could not have this test because the CT machines could not accommodate her size. She deteriorated during the hospitalization and died seven days after admission.

On autopsy, the pathologist found she had a previously undiagnosed duodenal ulcer, which perforated during this admission and resulted in an abdominal infection that spread to her blood stream. Because she showed no symptoms of an abdominal problem, the diagnosis of a perforated ulcer was not made until autopsy. This case was defended solely on the post-mortem findings.

The plaintiff’s attorney alleged that each of the defendant physicians breached his duty by failing to recognize the symptoms of a perforated duodenal ulcer and failing to order a timely gastrointestinal consult. He argued that if called in to see the patient, a GI specialist would have discovered the ulcer before it perforated and would have treated it, thereby saving the young woman’s life. Since the patient had no abdominal symptoms until a few hours before her death, the plaintiff’s allegations that the defendant physicians were negligent in failing to diagnose the ulcer were significantly weakened.

All six defendants were found not guilty of medical malpractice. After rendering the verdict, the jurors stated that they believed the defense experts who testified that such duodenal ulcers can occur without symptoms and then go on to rupture without there being any medical negligence.

Please contact Julie Ramson and Dawn Ehrenberg for questions about this case or similar medical negligence defense matters. Julie Ramson is a partner with McKenna Storer. Julie is a trial attorney and focuses her practice on defending medical professionals and medical products. She has been with McKenna Storer for more than 37 years with an impressive record of success.

Dawn Ehenberg is a partner with McKenna Storer. She has concentrated her practice on defending medical professionals, including physicians, nurses and other health care professionals in medical negligence defense suits with very successful results.

Categories General Litigation Medical Malpractice Defense

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