The best medical malpractice attorneys recognize that no two cases are exactly alike and no case is ever an “easy” win. Even if liability seems clear and damages are serious, there are always unknown factors which can cause a different outcome. Often, a physician with the greatest amount of culpability will be the one who fights the most against admitting fault. In other cases, a hospital or other medical provider will go to great lengths to blame the patient for what happened, claiming that the patient made the wrong choice, didn’t cooperate, or had poor health habits.
While it is certainly true that a patient should make every attempt to cooperate and participate in his or her own care, nothing should excuse egregious medical malpractice. A doctor who blames the patient for his own mistakes needs to be held accountable.
Still, in some circumstances, there is nothing that can be done to ensure a perfect outcome for a patient. This was likely the case for Dorothy Gittings, an 81-year-old retiree who passed away on September 28, 2012. Earlier in the month, Dorothy had undergone surgery for a right shoulder replacement at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Although the shoulder surgery itself seemed to go well, Dorothy had several significant co-morbidities that caused concern.
In particular, Dorothy’s heart problems and a history of intestinal complications seemed to be a threat. Following the surgery, cardiac issues and a swollen stomach/abdomen area resulted in further treatment. Dr. John Flowers, a general surgeon, examined Dorothy and expressed concerns about bowel obstruction and compression. However, he recommended colonoscopy and therapeutic relief efforts, as he feared that attempting invasive surgery could be too much.
Dr. Lester Bowser, a gastroenterologist, attempted to perform the colonoscopy. However, Dorothy had a history of challenging or incomplete colonoscopies, and this one was no different. The scope would not enter beyond 25 centimeters. During the attempted procedure, Dorothy suffered a bowel perforation and quickly deteriorated, passing away within a matter of hours.
Dorothy’s estate, through her children, hired medical malpractice attorneys Rodney Gaston and Justin Zuber to sue the treating physicians for medical malpractice, wrongful death, negligent treatment, surgical malpractice, and hospital malpractice. They demanded $887,500 in total damages and argued that the treatment received by Dr. Flowers and Dr. Bowser breached the ordinary standard of medical care. They said that because Dr. Flowers knew Dorothy had a history of difficult colonoscopies, he should have prescribed abdominal surgery instead.
The trial took five days and left the jury less than convinced. Experts who testified on behalf of the defense explained that both colonoscopy and open surgery carried risk and that it was the judgment call of the physician to determine which was better suited and carried a greater likelihood of success. According to Dr. Flowers, a surgical approach would likely have resulted in the same outcome, and failure to perform some kind of arthroscopic colon decompression would definitely have been fatal due to the extent and severity of the colonic compaction. Cohen & Cohen