This week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the dismissal of a medical malpractice and wrongful death action filed against a board-certified anesthesiologist and critical care physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center. STSW attorneys were not involved with the prosecution or appeal of this case.
The drug Heparin is an anticoagulant used to prevent blood clotting and is often given to patients who are undergoing dialysis. Once of its side effects is that it can decrease the blood platelet level. For this reason, Heparin is not administered to a patient whose platelet level falls below 50 because a condition called “heparin-induced thrombocytopenia” (“HIT”) can result. HIT interferes with the ability of the blood to clot and is a serious condition which can prove fatal.
On December 22, 2008, and notwithstanding the fact that the patient’s platelet level was at a dangerously low level of 1, the patient was given two doses of Heparin. It was alleged in the lawsuit that the patient developed HIT and essentially bled to death the following day. The defendant-doctor denied ordering or administering the Heparin. During the discovery phase of the litigation, the defense lawyer was successful in getting the plaintiffs’ liability expert to admit that the only way that the defendant-doctor could be considered to have acted negligently (in other words, in violation of the standards of acceptable medical care) was if: (1) the defendant-doctor himself administered the Heparin or ordered it to be administered; or (2) if a resident physician acting under the defendant-doctor’s supervision had ordered the Heparin and the order was not corrected by the defendant-doctor in his capacity as the attending physician.
This admission by the plaintiffs’ liability expert proved to be the nail in the coffin of the plaintiffs’ case. During discovery, it simply was never proven that the defendant-doctor had anything to do with the ordering or administration of the drug, nor was it proven that a resident working underneath him did so either. To the contrary, the only reasonable inference that could be drawn from the medical records produced and the testimony given during discovery was that another physician who was not named in the lawsuit may have ordered the Heparin. Without evidence of liability against the only defendant in the case, the appellate court found that the plaintiffs’ medical malpractice lawsuit was properly dismissed.
The facts of this case highlight the importance of the thorough and extensive pre-suit investigation carried out by experienced medical malpractice attorneys. At Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, our medical malpractice attorneys understand how crucial it is to have as many potential questions answered as possible – both factual and legal – before entering into the adversarial environment of complex medical malpractice litigation. If you or a loved one may have been the victim of a medical mistake, call one of our medical malpractice attorneys at 410-385-2225.