Malpractice claim based on delayed treatment of heart attack is reinstated by Court of Appeals
41 year-old Jayne Lanigan suffered a heart attack while jogging. She was taken to Huron Valley Hospital where she was placed under the care of "cardiac specialist" Steven Belen. She arrived at 9:40 a.m. but no preparations were undertaken to transfer her to a facility where emergency invasive bypass surgery could be performed until she was sent to the University of Michigan at about 10:30 p.m. She claimed that as a result of this 12+ hour delay, she was no longer a viable candidate for bypass surgery and suffered serious complications including loss of the capacity to work, reduced life expectancy and ultimately a heart transplant.
The Defendants persuaded the trial court to dismiss Lanigan's claim by suggesting that heart transplant patients enjoy a longer life expectancy than patients who suffer severe cardiogenic shock, generally. The appellate court noted, however, that Plaintiff's expert debunked the Defendants' "probability" claim by distinguishing the statistics the Defendants cited from the particulars of Ms. Lanigan's claim.
The Court also pointed to qualitative and statistical evidence offered by Lanigan's two experts which supported her allegation that her life expectancy and quality of life were significantly reduced as a result of the Defendants' delay in treatment. The two experts pointed out that Lanigan's 25-year survival was reduced from more that 60 percent (for a bypass patient) to less than ten percent (for a heart transplant patient). They also noted that with early intervention, Lanigan's heart would have suffered "little or no functional deficit": thus, she arguably lost well over a fifty percent "probability" of saving her own, undamaged heart. The Court noted that this testimony created a reasonable claim that Lanigan 's "lost opportunity for a better result [keeping her own undamaged heart] is close to 100 percent".
Isn't it ironic that the lawyers for a doctor and hospital--and the doctors they hired--would have the audacity to suggest that a twelve-hour delay in properly treating a heart attack--resulting in a heart transplant and loss of any chance of a bypass--actually improved the patient's outcome? In any other setting, we wonder if doctors of conscience would support such a suggestion.
We don't think that an ethical doctor would have told Lanigan at noon on the date of her heart attack that she should forego a bypass in order to improve her outcome with a heart transplant. If that were the case, we suggest that the number of bypasses currently being performed on a daily basis must be evidence of systemic malpractice. It is sad to see the levels to which some "scientists" will stoop in order to defend a medical malpractice claim.