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Failure to Diagnose Pneumonia and Pleural Effusion

$543,923- Medical Malpractice/Negligence

Facts

Kaiser employee has a collapsed lung and massive infection requiring intubation and decortication when Kaiser physicians fail to treat her pneumonia/pleural effusion.

At the time of the events giving rise to this action, Claimant Denise was 37 years of age, employed by Kaiser as a histologist, and was successfully raising five children on her own.

In June, Denise developed pneumonia, for which she was initially treated with antibiotics that provided some improvement. When her condition worsened in early July, she presented to the Sonora Regional Medical Center (not a party to this action) and was diagnosed with right mid-lobe pneumonia. A stronger antibiotic was prescribed, and she was instructed to follow up with her own primary care physician through Kaiser if she did not improve.

When seen in July in the ER of the local Kaiser hospital, Denise had developed a productive green cough, fever and right-sided rib pain. The ER doctor was planning to discharge her, but her symptoms became worse while she was in the ER and the nurse there did not let her go immediately. At that point, her pain had gone from a 3 out of 10 to 10 out of 10; x-rays indicated she had an infiltrate over the right midlung zone which was suspicious for an effusion; she had diminished lung sounds on the right, was breathing shallowly and had increased respirations, along with a fever and elevated white blood cell count – classic symptoms of pleuritis. However, instead of admitting her per Kaiser’s own protocol and despite pleading from twin sister that to do so, Kaiser’s physicians sent Denise home, without antibiotics, but with a rib belt – which made it even more difficult for her to breathe – and a prescription for Tylenol with codeine.

Over the course of the next two days, Denise’s sister repeatedly contacted Kaiser’s Nurse Advice Line reporting that her sister’s condition was worsening. She was told that the pain and breathing difficulties were to be expected because of the suspected rib fracture.

Finally, on July 23rd, Bernice took Denise to an emergency room in a facility which was not part of the Kaiser system, where x-rays showed a completely collapsed right lung. ER personnel drained over 1200 cc of fluid from that lung. She underwent a thoracotomy, decortication, and remained intubated and sedated until August 2nd. The following day, Denise reluctantly agreed to transfer to a Kaiser facility after being told that Kaiser would no longer pay for her care at the independent hospital.

Ironically, Denise lost her job as a histologist with Kaiser, since she was physically unable to continue working following Kaiser’s negligent care and treatment of her. The loss of that job also resulted in Denise X losing her health care coverage and benefits.

Allegations/Contentions

Claimant’s ER expert testified that Kaiser’s emergency room physicians clearly violated the standard of care in failing to recognize active pneumonia, failing to order more films to rule in or rule out pleural fluid, failing to start antibiotics, failing to perform a thoracentesis, and failing to consider the patient for admission.

Defendants alleged that at all times they complied with the standards of practice.

Injuries/Damages

Denise continues to suffer repeated bouts of pneumonia, as well as suffering from weakness, fatigue, and chronic pain. She has difficulty sleeping, both because of pain and because of the trauma from the injuries sustained as a result of Kaiser’s negligence.

Special Notes

The matter was arbitrated before the Hon. Richard L. Patsey (Ret.), J.A.M.S., in Walnut Creek, California, for five days. Denise received an Arbitration Award in the amount of $543,923. Kaiser made no offer of settlement before the Arbitration.


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