Friday, February 8, 2008

After Doctor Fails to Diagnose Endocarditis, 64-Year-Old Resident of Monroe Township, New Jersey Obtains Confidential Medical Malpractice Settlement

The plaintiff began to suffer flu-like symptoms in August 2002. When they persisted, he became concerned that he might be suffering from Lyme disease. Two weeks earlier he was bitten by an insect at a golf outing. When he reported this history to the defendant, his primary care physician, he was placed on prophylactic antibiotics and blood tests were ordered to rule-out the possibility of Lyme disease.

Three years before he began to suffer from flu-like symptoms, the plaintiff was found to have a heart murmur during an Executive Physical performed by another physician. The plaintiff advised the defendant of this diagnosis, and the defendant primary care doctor referred the plaintiff to a cardiologist for an echocardiogram. Investigation revealed that the defendant failed to follow-up on the echocardiogram he ordered, and never ascertained the results of that test and did not know that the plaintiff was suffering from a grade III/IV diastolic murmur and aortic regurgitation, a condition which made the plaintiff susceptible to bacterial endocarditis.

Although the plaintiff's lab studies were available on September 5, 2002, the defendant did not review them until September 16, 2002. Despite the fact that the test results came back negative for Lyme disease, the defendant continued to treat the plaintiff for that condition throughout the remainder of September and into October 2002. Ultimately, the plaintiff suffered a stroke on October 21, 2002. He was admitted to the hospital and found to have vegetations on his heart caused by bacterial endocarditis. The plaintiff underwent intravenous antibiotics to combat the infection. In early 2003 he was admitted to the hospital for aortic valve replacement surgery and repair of the mitral valve.

It was the plaintiffs' contention that accepted standards of medical care required the defendant physician to entertain Bacterial Endocarditis in his differential diagnosis, and that he failed to do so because he did not obtain the results of the echocardiogram he ordered and did not know that the plaintiff was susceptible to this disease. The defendant maintained that accepted standards of medical care did not require him to diagnose the plaintiff with Endocarditis because it is a rare disease.

Attorney John Ratkowitz represented the plaintiffs. The case was assigned to trial. Jury selection and opening statements took place. The plaintiffs called the defendant doctor as their first witness. The case settled prior to the conclusion of his testimony.

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