50 Shades of Malpractice

Mark Crane


February 27, 2017

In This Article

Physicians Often Miss Cardiac Symptoms


Many lawsuits involve a physician not considering the possibility of cardiac problems. In this case, a family physician's failure to order cardiac tests or refer his patient to a cardiologist led to one of the largest malpractice verdicts in Missouri history.

Jeffrey Schneider, 59, a former bank examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank, was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse in 1996. An echocardiogram in 2001 showed the existence of the same condition, the lawsuit charged, according to a report in the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

In 2007, Schneider complained of fatigue, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. His physician, Dr Joseph Thompson, referred him to other specialists but not a cardiologist, and he didn't order any tests examining his heart, the lawsuit alleged.

Later that year, Schneider had an acute stroke resulting from a bacterial infection on his heart valve, the suit charged. He has restricted use of the right side of his body and other neurologic impairments, his attorney said.

A jury awarded the patient and his wife $6.4 million in 2013.


Misdiagnoses are not uncommon, particularly with cardiac issues. This one left a widow and four children.

A physician missed a fairly common cardiac condition, known as a leaky valve. Failure to monitor and failure to refer the patient to a cardiologist resulted in a $1.7 million wrongful death verdict against a Billings clinic and internist, according to a report in the Billings Gazette.

The family charged that the internist misdiagnosed the patient's chest pain as a torn muscle instead of pain caused by the leaky valve. The patient died 1 year later because he did not receive a replacement valve, according to the family's attorney.

A Yellowstone County jury in 2011 found the internist and clinic negligent in the death of Gerard Heidt, 42, who died on October 5, 2005. "This case is about a patient who fell through the cracks and suffered a death that was entirely preventable," said Don Harris, one of the attorneys.

Harris said they were seeking $1.9 million in lost wages and money for the children's college education. When the verdict was rendered, the jury awarded $1.6 million for lost wages and $120,000 for the children's college education.


Many malpractice trials settle "on the courthouse steps," or just before trial, if the attorneys have a hunch that one side is more likely to prevail. In this case, the case against the doctor and hospital gained some strong support.

A 30-year-old woman underwent a lengthy operation to remove part of her large intestine. The procedure was a success. However, when the patient was positioned for surgery, her upper extremities were placed on arm boards, resting on towels and loosely taped. One arm fell from the board and dangled for as long as 3 hours, plaintiff's attorney David A. Domina told Medscape.

After surgery, the patient's arm was permanently and severely compromised. She sued the anesthesiologist and hospital. No settlement was offered until after the surgeon gave deposition testimony favorable to the plaintiff.

Just on the eve of trial in 2013, the defendants offered to mediate, Domina said. The case was settled before trial for a confidential but significant sum of money, he said.


Whereas many lawsuits are lost or dismissed on a technicality, there are instances when the court recognizes the right intentions and gives the plaintiff a break.

A mother brought her toddler to a hospital ED after the family pet, a parrot, bit the boy's right middle finger. A doctor and nurse irrigated the finger, repaired it, and dressed and bandaged it.

When the child returned several days later to have the dressing removed, the doctor and nurse noted that the finger was discolored. They consulted two hand surgeons, who said the finger was "dusky [and] swollen" and had "venous/arterial flow compromise." The boy had several operations but eventually required partial amputation of the finger.

The family sued the hospital, doctor, and nurse, charging that the dressing they applied was too tight. However, their expert's affidavit didn't identify the hospital staffers by name. As a result, a trial court dismissed the case.

The Nevada Supreme Court in 2014 reinstated the lawsuit, finding that the trial court should read a malpractice complaint and affidavit of merit together when determining whether the affidavit meets the requirements of the law. Even though the names were omitted, the expert adequately supported allegations of malpractice.


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