A York County jury has awarded $6 million to the estate of a woman who died from internal bleeding after a resident from an area hospital allegedly failed to properly diagnose and communicate her condition to her cardiologist, delaying the proper surgery.
The verdict, which was announced September 14, awarded Sherrie Ann Burkhardt’s estate $1 million in survival damages and $5 million for wrongful death. It was the largest award in that jurisdiction since 2008, when a York County jury awarded a developer more than $17 million for the condemnation of his 79 acres after he was unhappy with the $2 million the county had paid him.
Attorneys for the defendants are planning to file post-trial motions following the recent verdict, which was six times greater than the plaintiff’s settlement demand of $1 million, according to court papers.
Burkhardt arrived at York Hospital December 17, 2007, after experiencing two to three days of chest pain. One cardiologist, Dr. John Bobin, determined intervention was necessary and phoned in W. Jay Nicholson, who performed a cardiac catheterization. The operation revealed a nearly completely obstructed right artery and required three stents.
It was once Burkhardt was transferred to the medical surgical intensive care unit, the plaintiff alleged, that one or more doctors breached the standard of care and failed to save the woman’s life.
At the crux of the case was a dispute between one of the residents who treated Burkhardt once she was in the ICU and Bobin, which the five-day trial did not ever fully resolve.
Essentially, Daniel Motter, York Hospital’s chief resident, testified that he told Bobin over the phone about an abnormal abdominal exam following the procedure and, accordingly, a concern of internal bleeding. Motter had been working the night of December 17, 2007, as well as the next morning, with first-year resident Bryan Carroll.
Bobin, however, testified he was only made aware of a transient drop in blood pressure and would have ordered all the proper tests had he known Burkhardt’s full list of symptoms.
Either way, plaintiff Gerard M. Burkhardt, Sherrie Burkhardt’s husband, pled the doctors failed to properly communicate and save his wife of three decades.
"Neither Dr. Carroll nor Dr. Motter continued to inform any cardiologist, as had been ordered, about the drop in blood pressure and increase in heart rate, nor did they advise of the hallmark symptoms of bleeding, back pain, abdominal pain, distension and tenderness, gray skin pallor, anxiety, agitation and labored respirations," the plaintiff said in a pretrial memorandum.
If Motter provided the information he testified he did, then Bobin fell below the standard of care in failing to recognize that bleeding was going on, the plaintiff argued. Conversely, Motter was negligent if he did not convey that information, the plaintiff argued.
The jury came back after three-and-a-half hours of deliberation, Gerard Burkhardt’s attorney said. The jury pegged 75 percent of the negligence to York Hospital, and thusly Motter. The remaining 25 percent of the verdict went to Cardiac Diagnostic Associates, which was responsible for the actions of Bobin.
Either way, all the symptoms the plaintiff pled as hallmark signs of internal bleeding were documented in Sherrie Burkhardt’s medical records only 10 minutes after she arrived in the intensive care unit and three hours before she coded and went into cardiac arrest.
Gerard Burkhardt also alleged the nurses failed to meet the standard of care by failing to notify doctors if Sherrie Burkhardt’s heart rate or systolic blood pressure fell outside certain parameters.
"There were multiple readings in the MSICU where Ms. Burkhardt’s heart rate was well above 110 and systolic blood pressure was well below 80, yet none of the nurses promptly notified a cardiologist," the plaintiff’s court filing said.
The plaintiff pled that Nicholson, the doctor who first performed the catheterization, declined to immediately take the patient to the operating room. Instead, he sent her back to the catheterization laboratory, which the plaintiff asserted was "unnecessary, did nothing to improve survival and further delayed the necessary surgery," the filing said.
By the time Burkhardt made it to the operating table to address the bleeding, the plaintiff pled, it was too late.
The plaintiff’s attorney said a directed verdict was entered in favor of Nicholson.
The hospital, in a pretrial brief, argued the residents properly ordered studies to evaluate the possibility of a bleed and, as soon as those studies showed bleeding, the residents took proper procedure. They had no bearing on the four-hour delay between the diagnosis of bleeding and its surgical repair.
James W. Saxton and Shaun J. Mumford of Stevens & Lee in Lancaster represented the hospital.
Mumford confirmed the attorneys were in the process of filing post-trial motions but declined to further comment.
Leigh A.J. Ellis of Foulkrod Ellis in Camp Hill, Pa., represented Bobin and Nicholson, both the Cardiac Diagnostic Associates defendants. Ellis did not return calls requesting comment.
In a statement following the verdict, Gerard Burkhardt’s attorney said: "She arrived in the ICU with a blood pressure of 65/46 and a heart rate of 128 — clear signs of shock, yet, according to testimony given at trial, the resident proceeded in a routine fashion, without ordering any tests to find the cause of the shock and/or attempt to fix the problem before the patient was harmed."
He added: "This hospital violated patient safety rules, and the jury did the right thing: They held the hospital responsible for violating patient safety rules, which in this case led to the death of this wonderful woman, tearing her away from a husband of 33 years and three beloved children."
Plaintiff’s attorney Jaime D. Jackson of Atlee Hall in Lancaster said he filed a motion for delay damages last week.