A Salt Lake City jury last month awarded $2.9 million to the family of a 55 year-old man who died after physicians failed to diagnose and treat a life-threatening heart condition. After developing chest pains one evening – which quickly spread to his abdomen – the man presented to a clinic where he was seen by a Physician’s Assistant (PA). The PA diagnosed him with constipation and discharged him with instructions to drink a bottle of over-the-counter magnesium citrate and take a suppository.
Nine days later, the man returned to the clinic after being awakened by sudden onset of sweating and severe heartburn which, again, radiated to his abdomen. He also was found to have high blood pressure on exam. Nevertheless, he was again diagnosed with constipation and instructed to increase his daily intake of fruits and vegetables and to follow up in two months. Four days after this second visit to the clinic, the man passed away while at his home. An autopsy determined that he had died of aortic dissection, a serious condition in which the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off of the heart, tears.
The lawsuit alleged that the healthcare providers at the clinic breached the applicable standards of acceptable medical care by, among other things, failing to perform a chest x-ray, failing to perform an EKG, and failing to send the man to the emergency room. The jury found that the man was 30% at fault, presumably because he could have gone to an emergency room on his own but chose not to do so.