Directed Verdict in Arizona Wrongful Death Trial

April 19, 2019

Judge ruled reasonable jurors could not find anesthesiologist’s care constituted medical negligence.

Overland Park, Kansas – April 19, 2019 – Preferred Physicians Medical (PPM), industry-leading provider of professional liability insurance for anesthesia practices, announced that a judge in Yuma County, Arizona, excused a PPM insured anesthesiologist from a wrongful death case midway through trial.

An 18 year-old female was brought to the emergency department following a single passenger motor vehicle accident. The patient, who was intoxicated and unrestrained when she struck a utility pole, presented with a fractured right hip and probable latent trauma. CT imaging revealed a pericardial effusion of unknown origin, and the patient was brought to the OR for emergent surgical intervention.

Upon opening the patient’s chest, a substantial amount of blood poured out of the pericardium. The blunt force trauma from the accident caused a 5 cm tear in the patient’s right atrial appendage. Due to the nature of the injury, the surgeon had difficulty placing the cannulas and elected to convert to sucker bypass. Blood continued to fill the surgical field and obstruct the surgeon’s view; he decided to place the patient in deep hypothermic circulatory arrest (DHCA). Thereafter, the surgeon was able to repair the tear in the patient’s heart. The patient suffered a hypoxic brain injury, however, and never regained consciousness. The patient’s family withdrew life support two weeks later and she passed away.

The patient’s mother brought a wrongful death action against the hospital, the emergency medicine physician, the surgeon and the PPM insured anesthesiologist. Plaintiff’s anesthesiology expert testified that the anesthesiologist deviated from the standard of care by failing to adequately support the patient’s intraoperative blood pressure and neglecting to order enough blood products. He also testified the anesthesiologist had a duty to lobby the surgeon to attempt a fem-fem bypass before opening the patient’s chest, and that he should have advocated against placing the patient in DHCA.

In a rare development, the Court struck the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony because he lacked the requisite experience, under Arizona law, to testify as an anesthesiology expert. The Court later granted defense counsel’s Motion for Directed Verdict at the close of plaintiff’s case, finding the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to establish the anesthesiologist deviated from the standard of care or caused the patient’s injury.

The hospital subsequently entered into a confidential settlement agreement with the plaintiff, while the emergency medicine physician and surgeon defended their care through trial. During closing argument, the plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award the patient’s mother $8,000,000 for her pain and suffering. The jury deliberated for a short period of time before returning a unanimous verdict for the remaining defendants.

Jim Goodwin, Esq. of J. Goodwin Law, PLLC, Goodyear, Arizona, represented PPM’s insured. Brian Thomas, Vice President of Risk Management, and Paul Lefebvre, Senior Claims Attorney, managed the file on behalf of PPM.

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