Sommers Schwartz attorney Matthew Turner obtained a confidential $882,500 wrongful death settlement on behalf of the estate of a woman who died as a result of an infection from dental work that traveled to her spine causing an epidural abscess and then to her heart causing endocarditis.
According to the wrongful death complaint, the decedent presented to the defendant internist in September 2013 with complaints of low back pain. An MRI was planned but was never obtained.
Over the next two months, the decedent suffered from progressively worsening back pain and decreased mobility, and was seen by the defendant internal medicine physician six times and evaluated twice in the emergency room at the defendant hospital. When she presented to the ER for the second time in November 2013, she had severe and unrelenting back pain that she rated a 10 out of 10 after multiple pain medications. Despite all of these visits and her declining condition, she was discharged and none of the defendants ever obtained an MRI.
Eleven days after the second ER visit, the decedent went to a different hospital and was admitted and worked up. A myelogram and post-myelogram CT scan were performed and revealed discitis and osteomyelitis and an anterior epidural abnormality strongly suggestive of epidural abscess. She also had an echocardiogram that diagnosed endocarditis, and she was septic. A bone biopsy showed a common bacteria found in the mouth, which demonstrated that the infection was caused by a broken crown for which she sought treatment from her dentist five days before her September 2013 visit to the internist.
The decedent had an MRI that confirmed the abscess, and she underwent surgery for drainage of the abscess and fusion of the lumbar spine. The spinal infection had to be cured before the heart could be treated. During a cardiac catheterization in preparation for heart surgery, a nurse noticed a minor left facial palsy. Neurology was consulted and an MRI of the brain confirmed a stroke. The decedent was transferred to a skilled nursing facility, where she deteriorated until her death in December 2013. According to the death certificate, she died from endocarditis as a result of epidural abscess that had been present for “months.”
The plaintiff claimed that the internist and the ER physician were negligent in failing to obtain an MRI of the lumbar spine in light of the patient’s severe and progressive pain which would have made the diagnosis of an abscess. Because of their medical malpractice, the decedent died a long, horrible, and painful death after a stroke caused by extensive vegetation on her heart valve that embolized to her brain. Had the defendants acted within the acceptable standards of care, the decedent’s spinal infection would have been diagnosed, antibiotics would have been initiated, and she would not have died. There were significant economic damages because the decedent was responsible for taking care of her developmentally disabled adult daughter.
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