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A Wyoming County jury has awarded a medical malpractice verdict of $5.3 million to the family of a man who died from a heart attack in what is the largest jury award in the county’s history. The man, Dennis Hillard, died at age 31 in November 2000 of a heart attack after being diagnosed with high cholesterol in July of the same year. In Hillard v. McIntyre, et al., Hillard’s wife, Angelia Hillard, filed suit against the nurse practitioner who treated Hillard for high cholesterol and blood pressure. The $5.3 million award – $4.1 million for wrongful death and $1.2 million for the survivors – is the largest in county history, according to Wyoming County Prothonotary Paulette Burnside. The award is a victory for Lawrence Finney of Levy Angstreich Finney Baldante Rubenstein & Coren in Philadelphia. The 12-member jury delivered the verdict on March 27, Finney said. Finney said he had already filed a motion for delay damages that could increase the wrongful death claim to $5,041,360 and the survival action to $1,475,520, for a total award of $6,516,880. The case arose from the care and treatment Hillard got while he was a patient of health care group PhysicianCare in Tunkhannock – specifically his physician, John McIntyre, and Maria Eastman, a nurse practitioner, according to court papers. At the five-day trial in March, the plaintiffs argued that Hillard was a strong candidate for statin therapy, a treatment where medicines are used to drive down the bad kind of cholesterol (LDL), according to Finney. Hillard’s family argued that Eastman was negligent by not prescribing or recommending that Hillard be put on statin therapy. According to the plaintiffs’ pre-trial memo, Hillard went to PhysicianCare and saw Eastman in August 2000 after undergoing a health screening that had caused him concern about his blood pressure and cholesterol. Hillard was also concerned because his father had recently had a heart attack, Finney said. Later that month, Hillard returned to PhysicianCare and again saw Eastman. The progress note taken that day indicated Hillard wanted to try dietary changes first and return in four months to check his lipid levels, according to court documents. Hillard died several months later, in November 2000. The conversation in late August between Hillard and Eastman became a disputed part of the case, according to Finney. The plaintiffs contended that Eastman was questioned about whether Hillard should be placed on statin therapy and that she said it was unnecessary. Finney said the defendants disputed this conversation. The Hillards had two key expert witnesses, according to Finney – a nurse practitioner, Lorraine Bock, and a family physician. The Hillards’ other key witness was physician Michael McGonigal, according to Finney. He said McGonigal testified as to what statins are and how they work on the body, and provided his opinion that statin therapy would have reduced Hillard’s likelihood of death. Counsel for all of the defendants was John J. Aponick of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Scranton. Aponick declined to comment for this article. Finney said the defense argued that diet therapy was appropriate for Hillard, rather than going directly on statin therapy. He said the defense based its argument on a number of guidelines that it said set a standard for high cholesterol. The plaintiffs argued that the breakdown in communication – where Eastman did not consult McIntyre regarding treatment for Hillard – was also negligence, according to court papers. Finney said the defendants brought in a cardiologist, David M. Leaman, who testified that it was his opinion that statin therapy would not have made a difference in Hillard’s case. According to Finney, the parties did not engage in any settlement talks before trial. He said he could not comment on whether there was a high-low agreement, but said the defendants “didn’t offer us a penny.” Finney said both he and Hillard’s family were pleased with the verdict. “I thought the deliberations were methodical,” Finney said, adding later, “I think that the evidence strongly showed that [Hillard] was a family man involved in all aspects of his children’s lives and his marriage.” Finney said he thought the jury had polled at 11-1. He said several of the jury members came over to Angelia Hillard after delivering the verdict to express their sympathy for her loss. President Judge Brendan J. Vanston presided over the trial. Hillard was an auto body painter and father of two children. Finney said he was certain the defense would be appealing the judgment.

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