Edith Holmes, Administratrix of the Estate of Arnold Holmes v. Hartford Hospital: The state Appellate Court recently upheld a defense verdict in a lawsuit filed after a patient died of cardiac arrest in Hartford Hospital and none of the nurses noticed for about 20 minutes.
The jurors ultimately decided that the nurses did not breach the standard of care owed to the patient, accepting the hospital’s argument that the patient was moved to an unmonitored room only after his vital signs had been checked following surgery.
On Sept. 29, 2005, Arnold Holmes went to Hartford Hospital as an outpatient to undergo a medical procedure known as an endoscopic retrograde colangiopancreatography, or ERCP, in order to treat a condition known as pancreatic pseudocyst, which is a fluid-filled sac in the abdomen region containing pancreatic tissue, enzymes and blood.
Holmes’ doctor had to first clear him for surgery, as he had a host of other medical conditions: He had previously suffered a heart attack, he had high blood pressure and he breathed oxygen through a tube to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Holmes’ blood pressure was checked prior to the surgery and immediately after, and no other problems were noted. However, as he was taken back to the outpatient floor of the hospital, his blood pressure spiked. He flat-lined and was in a vegetative state for a period of time before ultimately passing away two weeks later.
Holmes’ estate sued the hospital, claiming the nurses negligently took him from the operating suite to the recovery room and then the outpatient area without properly monitoring him or providing him with his oxygen.
The lawsuit also alleged that as a result of the hospital’s negligence, Holmes experienced cardiac arrest that went undetected for 20 minutes. By the time Holmes was resuscitated, he had suffered brain damage and respiratory failure and never regained consciousness.
A jury trial began Feb. 23, 2009 and on March 6, 2009, the jury sided with the hospital. A plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the verdict was denied.
Holmes’ family, through their attorney, Neil Johnson, of Hartford, then appealed. Johnson, serving a suspension from the practice of law for all of 2014, could not be reached for comment.
Michael Rigg, of O’Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford, who represented the hospital at the appellate level, explained that the plaintiffs argued on appeal that the jury’s verdict should not be upheld because, in part, the trial judge, Julia Aurigemma, would not allow certain testimony from an expert witness.
Dr. David Crippen was prepared to testify that the nurses violated the hospital’s own policies in the post-surgical care of Holmes by transferring him to an unmonitored room before his vital signs had completely stabilized. But earlier, at his deposition, Crippen had not mentioned any violation of hospital policies. He would later explain that he did not know about the hospital’s policies until after the deposition. Because of the discrepancy, Crippen was not allowed to testify on the policy issue.
Another plaintiff’s witness, an expert on nursing care, Donna Querim, was allowed to testify though her testimony changed some after her deposition too.
Rigg argued that even if the hospital violated its own policies, that does not mean the hospital failed to provide the patient with an acceptable standard of care. “The basic argument we made both to the trial court and the Appellate Court was that a hospital policy does not establish the standard of care,” said Rigg. “Hartford Hospital doesn’t have the power to establish the standard of care for every hospital in America.”
Judge Aurigemma agreed and also told both parties from the bench at trial that: “It defies logic to think that two medical professionals could have their opinions changed as to whether or not an individual, the decedent … Mr. Holmes, was stable or quite stable, I think, as one expert said before seeing the policy based presumably on their knowledge of the standard of care, and then, say it was wildly unstable after the policy.”
The state Appellate Court also sided with Aurigemma in disallowing certain testimony from the doctor witness and upheld the jury’s decision.
Another point of contention during the appeal, and a reason why the appeal took nearly five years to get decided, was that the court reporter at the trial retired and her successors could not decipher her shorthand. “Getting an accurate transcript for the appeal was very challenging,” said Rigg. “That was primarily why the case took so long.” •