The trajectory of modern medicine is complicated. Communities trust and spend money on doctors to take care of us and give us advice on how to take better care of our health. However, what do we do when the doctor is wrong? Who do we blame? A family in Scranton, Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a mother of two who died five years ago of an allegedly misdiagnosed heart problem. The medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against Geisinger Community Medical Center and two physicians for a requested $3.5 million in compensation for her death.
The settlement terms were approved recently in a Lackawanna County Court hearing, presided over by Judge James Gibbons. The administrator of the deceased individual’s estate, Thomas Coleman (on behalf of Kristine Coleman) filed the lawsuit against GCMC and the doctors, Chua Fe Huang and Paul Dubiel in January of 2014. The lawsuit alleged that the doctors misdiagnosed his wife’s heart condition, which turned out to be fatal. Kristine Coleman died on February 21, 2012.
According to the reported story in The Times-Tribune, Kristine Coleman, a dietary technician at Allied Services, was admitted to the medical facility on February 6th, which was only a couple of weeks before her death at age 41. The patient was complaining of severe pain in her left shoulder, which was radiating down her arm. For many in the medical profession, severe shoulder pain with these symptoms is often a strong signal of heart problems. GCMC did order a cardiac evaluation and catheterization to check for blocked arteries, but Dr. Huang canceled the testing and failed to reschedule it. Her family has argued that this test would have been able to identify the cardiac issues that the patient was suffering from, and that she would most likely not have died if this test had been performed as ordered.
Kristine was again admitted to the hospital on the night of February 20th, again complaining of pain in her left shoulder and arm, and this time with the added symptom of shortness of breath. The ER physician on duty at the time, Dr. Dubiel, did not promptly identify the signs of a heart attack and misdiagnosed her illness as pneumonia. The patient passed away within six hours after going into full cardiac arrest, which was confirmed during autopsy as an undiagnosed heart attack that lasted for days.
According to the settlement’s court documents, insurers for the practice and the doctors named in the suit will pay 2 million dollars. The remaining 1.5 million dollars of the wrongful death settlement will be paid from the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund (MCARE) set up by the state to help doctors who have been accused of malpractice pay the claims against them.
Although the settlement will provide some level of compensation for the deceased individual’s family, it will not replace the loss of companionship and parental care that they had suffered as a result of the doctors’ failure to correctly diagnose her condition before it was too late.