An award of approximately $6 million to the estate of a heart attack victim who died after a feeding tube was mistakenly inserted into his lung has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
A three-judge panel consisting of Judges Jack A. Panella, Judith Ference Olson and Correale F. Stevens affirmed a Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas jury’s award to the estate of Marvin Jerome Summerford. Summerford’s wife, Anita E. Tong-Summerford, sued Abington Memorial Hospital and its radiology department for wrongful death.
Summerford was being treated at Abington for a heart attack in December 2008. An X-ray was taken to determine whether a feeding tube was properly placed, but it showed that it was inserted in Summerford’s lung, according to Stevens’ opinion. Dr. Valerie Bonica reinserted the tube and ordered a second X-ray to confirm proper placement.
Tong-Summerford claimed that radiologist Dr. Kristin Crisci misread the subsequent X-ray, concluding that the feeding tube was placed in Summerford’s stomach and not his lung. Bonica then ordered that feeding solution be administered, relying on Crisci’s report. Tong-Summerford alleged the flush of feeding solution into her husband’s lung killed him.
After five days of trial in May 2016, a jury awarded her $8.5 million. The verdict was later molded to $5.9 million, which included delay damages. The hospital and doctors involved objected to the award and raised numerous issues on appeal challenging it.
The defendants asked for a new trial on several grounds, arguing that the verdict was excessive and against the weight of the evidence and that certain experts and evidence shouldn’t have been allowed.
The hospital argued that Summerford was 88 years old when he was admitted to the hospital and his prognosis was bleak, he suffered from several ailments, and had a life expectancy of one year. Additionally, the hospital claimed Summerford was sedated the entire time and didn’t have a substantial claim for pain and suffering. The defendants claimed the verdict, especially given that no economic losses were claimed, shocked the conscious.
But Stevens said that the hsopital’s argument mirrored Crisci’s and that they both failed to show that the verdict was too high given the circumstances.
“Based on the foregoing, and following an independent review of the record, we find that the jury’s $1.5 million award for appellee’s wrongful death claim and its $3.5 award for Mr. Summerford’s conscious pain and suffering caused by the negligence of Dr. Crisci and [Radiology Group of Abington] fell ‘within the uncertain limits of fair and reasonable compensation,’” Stevens said. “Therefore, ‘[c]ognizant of the fact that the amount of pain and suffering damages is primarily a jury question,’ we agree with the trial court that the verdict was not ‘so grossly excessive as to shock our sense of justice.’”
The defendants are represented by Joan Orsini Ford of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin and Nancy Raynor of Raynor & Associates and did not return calls seeking comment.
The plaintiff is represented by Charles Becker and Michael Trunk of Kline & Specter.
“We appreciate the court’s meticulous opinion and believe it got the analysis exactly right. We hope the opinion brings an end to this matter,” Becker and Trunk said in a joint statement.