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JURY HITS INFIRMARY FOR $5.5M

Nov 19, 2004

Second multimillion-dollar verdict against hospital in three months

By GARY McELROY
Staff Reporter

For the second time in three months, the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center has been hit with a multimillion-dollar jury verdict involving the death of a patient.

A Mobile County Circuit Court jury awarded the family of a 72-year-old Deer Park woman $5.5 million on Nov. 12, following a two-week trial before Circuit Judge Rick Stout.

Jurors deliberated about five hours before delivering their finding against the hospital, while exonerating a cardiologist also named in the suit.

In a separate August suit, jurors awarded the family of another woman nearly $3 million.

Both deaths occurred in 1999.

According to court records in the most recent case, the Washington County woman, Lida Tyler, went into the Infirmary on Friday, June 4, 1999, with heart problems.

The next day, she apparently suffered a blood clot that lodged in her intestines and caused her severe pain, records show.

What happened next was the crux of the lawsuit and, according to Tyler family attorneys, resulted from a flawed and deficient effort to communicate the patient's symptoms to her attending physician.

According to testimony, the doctor was not in the hospital that day, and communication from the nursing staff apparently did not adequately convey to him how critical Tyler's situation had become.

The blockage went untreated until the next day, and by then it was too late, Tyler attorneys argued. The intestinal tissue, deprived of oxygen, died, which caused infection, according to her lawyers. Tyler died that Sunday afternoon.

Despite family members' adamant demands that Tyler's severe pain be addressed, her lawyers contended, its level and significance was missed.

The staff on duty at the time "did not listen to the patient and the patient's family, that it was 'the worst pain' in her life and that she needed a doctor," Tyler family attorney Skip Finkbonner said following the verdict.

This "sense of emergency," Finkbonner said, was not passed on to the doctor by the nursing staff when he was contacted by phone on that Saturday before Tyler died.

Finkbonner contended that the breakdown in communication cost Tyler her life.

According to trial testimony, one of the attending nurses noted in a medical log the exact words Tyler and her family used to describe her pain -- the worst in her life. Finkbonner said this description was later watered down during the phone consultation with the cardiologist.

Finkbonner said that during closing arguments, his firm, Cunningham Bounds, asked jurors for a $5 million verdict, then received $500,000 more from the jury.

He said he believed the jurors were saying with their verdict: "Listen to your patient. Listen to the patient's family."

Birmingham attorney Bob McKenzie, who helped represent the hospital, declined to comment in length following the verdict.

"We regret Ms. Tyler's death," McKenzie said, "but we are disappointed with the decision and anticipate an appeal."

In the August case, before Circuit Judge John Lockett, a jury deliberated for about four hours before delivering a $2.7 million verdict against the Infirmary and an emergency room physician.

In that case, a 70-year-old retired nurse, Dorothy Pugh, who had suffered a stroke a month before, went to the facility's emergency room after falling out of her wheelchair at home and striking her head, a Pugh family lawyer said.

According to Mike Worel, also with the Cunningham Bounds firm, the doctor and the hospital nursing staff failed to realize that Pugh had bleeding on her brain due to her accident.

The doctor failed to order a CT scan -- a computerized internal image -- which would have revealed the injury. An emergency room nurse, who had been licensed less than a month, failed to recognize the significance of Pugh's lethargy, a classic sign of such head injuries, Worel said.

Pugh was sent home, where her condition worsened, and shortly afterward she died, according to Worel.

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