A woman who allegedly had her appendix needlessly removed after her radiology slides were mixed up with another patient’s has secured a nearly $6 million verdict against the radiology firm.
A Delaware County jury handed up the verdict April 28 in Hill v. Crozer-Keystone Health System, following seven days of trial in Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Charles B. Burr II’s courtroom.
Although defendant Crozer-Keystone Health System settled before trial, its name remained on the verdict sheet and was found 80 percent liable. Southeast Radiology, which was the sole defendant at trial, was found 20 percent liable.
Francis J. Curran of The Curran Firm and Hugh Donaghue of Donaghue & Labrum handled the case for Darlene Hill. They declined to comment. O’Brien & Ryan attorney Tracie A. Vizza, who represented the radiologists, declined to comment.
Court papers show that plaintiff Hill’s claims stem from an incident in which a radiologist allegedly failed to recognize he had been given slides of the wrong patient, as they were inconsistent with previous radiology records. That mix-up, according to court papers, resulted in Hill undergoing an unwarranted laparotomy and appendectomy.
According to Hill’s pretrial memo, in December 2009, when Hill was 31, she went to the emergency room at Taylor Hospital complaining of abdominal pain. A physician ordered a computerized ­tomography (CT) scan of Hill’s abdomen, which was performed a few hours later. Dr. Chad Brecher, a radiologist for Southeast Radiology, interpreted the images.
According to the pretrial memo, the CT images clearly showed an intact ­gallbladder; however, Hill’s medical records, including previous CT scans, showed that Hill’s ­gallbladder had been removed.
Based on the incorrect slides, Brecher diagnosed Hill with a perforated bowel. Hill then underwent an exploratory laparotomy, in which a surgeon examined all four ­quadrants of Hill’s abdomen, “manipulated her organs,” and inspected her bowel several times in search of the perforation. After failing to find the diagnosed perforation, the surgeon then removed Hill’s appendix, the memo said.
According to the memo, the surgeon who performed the laparotomy immediately told radiology that what he saw during ­surgery did not match what was reported by radiology.
The memo faulted Brecher for failing to recognize that the CT images were not of Hill.
“Dr. Brecher negligently failed to ­properly review the information in Taylor’s system, which would have ­immediately revealed that the films of July 2007 and December 2009 were of different ­individuals,” the memo said.
The memo further said defendants at the radiology firm scanned and placed Hill’s study in the information system the night that Hill came to the ER, but the information was then deleted purposely the next morning. According to the memo, the scans were deleted after radiologists reviewed the scans and compared them with previous scans that clearly showed Hill’s gallbladder had been removed.
“Within a half an hour of both Dr. Brecher and Dr. Kurt Muetterties having reviewed the 2007 and 2009 CT films, Ms. Hill’s actual 2009 CT scan study was intentionally deleted by a supervisor in the radiology department, in violation of federal and state law,” the memo said.
According to the memo, Hill returned to the hospital about a year later with complaints related to her post-operative pain. Another radiologist reviewed Hill’s scans and realized the scans from 2009 could not be the same person from the 2007 scans. That doctor reported the discrepancies, and an investigation was undertaken.
Following the investigation, Hill was told about the previous errors. She was also told that the surgery would have been necessary, regardless of the findings on the CT scan.
Hill’s memo said she developed new pain in the area of the incision, which intensified when she moved. According to the memo, the pain is due to a trapped nerve that ­occurred during the procedure.
The pain began interfering with work and other aspects of daily living, and eventually she had a nerve stimulator implanted in her abdomen, the memo said. She was declared totally disabled in 2012.
The memo also contended Hill will require lifelong medical treatment, as the condition will worsen as she ages.
In its memo, Southeast Radiology contended that the treatment was within the standard of care, and that signs the CT scan did not depict Hill’s body were “very subtle.”
“It is extremely rare for CT scan images to be mislabeled with incorrect patient information, and it is not the standard of care for a radiologist to ascertain if the images he/she is interpreting are actually those of the person whose name accompanies the film,” the memo said.
The defendants further argued that Brecher correctly recognized that CT scans showed an emergency condition, which was properly addressed.
“Accordingly, the standard of care required Dr. Brecher to properly interpret the films given to him on an emergent basis and to act promptly in notifying the emergency room of the situation, both of which he did,” the memo said.