Death After Failure to Diagnose an Aortic Dissection Leads to $700,000 Jury Award | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

An emergency room physician diagnosed a 56-year-old retired FBI agent with a sore throat and sent the man home with a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist. The physician performed no diagnostic tests. Four days later, the man died at his home.

After an autopsy identified the man’s cause of death as an aortic dissection that may have occurred six days before proving fatal, his family contacted our Virginia medical malpractice law firm to inquire about filing a failure to diagnose lawsuit.

A review of the deceased man’s medical records revealed that he had first seen his family doctor after experiencing three days of occasional vision disturbances and chest pains that radiated into his jaw. His own doctor sent him to the emergency room with a provisional diagnosis of “impending vascular accident.”

The emergency room physician denied ever receiving or seeing the family doctor’s report.

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Key Legal Strategy

Our Virginia medical malpractice attorney filed lawsuits against both the family doctor and the emergency room physician. Expert analysis of the deceased man’s medical records convinced the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the Yale School of Medicine that both should have detected the man’s life-threatening problem, in which the inner layer of the aorta tears and leaks blood out of the heart.

Neither health care provider accepted responsibility or offered a settlement, and both chose to take their chances at trial. A jury saw the defendants — “respondents” in the language of civil court proceedings — point fingers at each other and determined that the emergency room physician was most to blame for failing to diagnose the man’s medical issue and, thereby, failing to prevent his death. Subsequently, the jurors awarded the man’s family $700,000.

Taking legal action after a misdiagnosis results in an unavoidable death or long-term disability is not always easy. As experienced Virginia medical malpractice attorneys, we look for every way to help our clients hold negligent doctors accountable.

Court and Date: Suffolk Circuit Court, Suffolk, VA, 1999

Staff: Staff attorney