Court upholds jury's medical malpractice verdict against Henry Ford Hospital and others
The Estate of Marie Heisey sued several doctors and the Henry Ford Health System for medical malpractice, alleging that they caused the death of Mrs. Helsey. She was a 57-year old teacher when she died in 2007. She was distracted by painful patches of scoliosis and ultimately retained the defendants to implant an intrathecal pain pump. During an IV refill of the pain pump with Dilaudid, the relatively inexperienced practitioners injected the opioid improperly, causing a fatal overdose that prevented the woman from breathing. Although Narcan was administered immediately to balance the impact of the opiod, it was not properly weaned, Ms. Helsey was discharged prematurely, and she died from respiratory distress.
The family presented multiple experts to support their malpractice claims, and the jury awarded the family a little over $1,000,000. dollars, including economic damages and the "cap" on non-economic damages. The Defendants appealed, arguing that the family had not adequately proved a breach of the standard of care or that their errors caused the victim's death. The Court pointed out that the defendants could not produce any evidence of a cause other than an error by the treaters, which their own records described as "iatrogenic" or "physician-caused." In short, the incident could not have happened in the manner it did, if the defendants had, as they claimed "done everything right." It was certainly within the province of the jury to reject their claims of error, given the evidence.
The defendants' insurer also dredged up a medical examiner from Georgia who offered the opinion that Marie died of a sudden cardiac arrhythmia, unrelated to the defendants' recent devastating error. The higher court pointed out that two pathologists rejected this theory and traced the death directly to the Dilaudid overdose, amply supporting the jury's conclusion. Although the defendants alleged that the family's causation testimony was "speculative," the Court of Appeals held that this claim "mischaracterized" the testimony, "mischaracterized the factual record, and ignored the Estate's documentation of the opinions in peer-reviewed literature. Lastly, the Court reaffirmed that under existing law, the physician is legally responsible to assure that a physician assistant acting under the physician's supervision complies with the physician's applicable standard of care: the Estate need not prove a separate standard of care failure by the P.A.