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Case: Muriel Tenney, et al v. Marc Shapiro MD, et al

Case no: CACE10034040

Description: Medical malpractice

Filing Date: Aug. 20, 2010

Judge: Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter

Plaintiff attorneys: Jay Cohen and Rudy Ayala, Law Office of Jay Cohen, Fort Lauderdale

Defense attorneys: James Nosich, Nosich & Ganz, Coral Gables; Jay Chimpoulis, Chimpoulis, Hunter & Lynn, Davie

Verdict amount: $8 million

Details: In 2007, Muriel Tenney was a 36-year-old mother of two children. She was in relatively good health when she went to Memorial Regional Hospital complaining of an abscess on her upper right back Dec. 4. It was drained and the wound was packed. No culture was taken, and Dr. Marc Shapiro gave her a prescription for the antibiotic Bactrim.

She returned Dec. 6, and Dr. Sethuraj Raj repacked her wound. The next day she went to a doctor at the Memorial Primary Care Center in Miramar, and the physician noted heavy drainage. She was directed to go to the Memorial Regional emergency room that day, get the wound repacked and then go to surgery/trauma services Dec. 11.

Tenney went to the ER that day and was again treated by Raj. On Dec. 11, she saw a surgeon, Dr. Seong Keun Lee, and was instructed to return in two weeks.

However, Tenney experienced terrible chest pain that radiated down her right side Dec. 24. She went to the ER and was treated by Dr. Ahmed Shehata.

Her chest X-ray was normal, as was her EKG. Notably, there was no discussion about her back wound. She was discharged.

She returned at 3:20 a.m. Dec. 26 complaining the chest pain was worse. She was treated by Dr. Jean-Daniel Pierrot. She was given a pain reliever and later seen by Dr. Robert Ringelheim, who performed a scan for a blood clot in her lungs. Finding nothing, she was discharged that morning, but she was back by 7:10 p.m.

More than three hours later, she was taken to a surgical room and seen by Dr. Tiffany Berkshire. Tenney was given morphine for the pain and Protonix for heartburn. She was kept through the night. By 1 p.m. Dec. 27 she complained of numbness in her feet. Less than nine hours later, she had lost feeling in her legs and could not move them. She was permanently paralyzed below the waist and left without bladder or bowel control.

Plaintiffs case: Memorial Regional and its staff were dismissed early in litigation under sovereign immunity. Shapiro, an emergency medical specialist, was among the dismissed defendants.

Cohen said the primary defendants were Drs. Pierrot and Ringelheim and their private contractor employer, Inphynet South Broward Inc. Shehata also was a defendant.

Tenney alleged the doctors were negligent for failing to admit her to the hospital based on her complaint of severe chest pain. Had she been given a proper examination and workup, the medical staff would have found in time that her abscess infection had traveled to her spinal chord. Pressure from the spinal epidural abscess left her paralyzed.

Plaintiffs expert witnesses were Daniel Abbott, an emergency medicine physician from Fullerton, Calif., and Nicholas Suite, a neurologist from Hollywood.

Abbott testified the defendants breached the standard of care for ER doctors by sending her home without knowing what was causing her severe chest pain, and Suite testified their delay caused her paralysis, Cohen said.

Defense case: The defense attorneys did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Cohen said the defendants claimed they acted reasonably in discharging Tenney despite not having determined a cause for the chest pain. The defendants also asserted it was the conduct of Dr. Matthew Zucker, after she was finally admitted, that caused the delay in diagnosis.

Zucker, a staff physician, could not be sued and was not named as a defendant. He was included on the verdict form by the defense in an attempt to assign a percentage of negligence to him.

Outcome: The jury found Shehata was not negligent. However, comparative negligence was assigned against Pierrot at 20 percent, Ringelheim at 22 percent and Zucker at 58 percent.

Damages of $3.45 million were awarded for past and future medical costs and $15.8 million for past and future pain and suffering. Because of the amount assigned to Zucker as a Fabre defendant, Tenney’s award was reduced to $8 million.

Comments: “The strain of the infection was common enough that they could have treated it when she first visited the emergency room—had they only done a workup. Instead, they sent her home. By the time she returned to the ER the final time, it was too late,” Cohen said.

Post-verdict: The defendants have motions pending for new trial, directed verdict or remittitur. Cohen filed a motion to set aside the judgment against Zucker, which if granted would increase the award.