Home E-Weekly August 1, 2017

$5M Award for Family of Pa. Man Who Died After Hip Surgery

Published: July 31, 2017

BREAKDOWN The plaintiffs contended that Mr. Natale's physicians failed to review a chest X-ray that would have revealed an aspiration event.

Physicians failed to review a chest X-ray that showed a man who died days after he received a hip replacement aspirated the night before his surgery, a Pennsylvania jury ruled last week when it awarded a verdict of more than $5 million — one of the largest medical malpractice cases in Mercer County, Pa. — to the man's family.

The verdict stems from a lawsuit filed by the family of Thomas A. Natale Jr., who came to Sharon (Pa.) Regional Hospital in September 2007 after breaking his hip in a fall. Mr. Natale had been scheduled for surgery on Sept. 7, but a more urgent case led to the cancellation of the procedure. "Something happened" when he was returned to his room for the night, according to Josh Van Naarden, the plaintiffs' attorney. Mr. Natale developed a high fever, at which point his surgeon ordered a chest X-ray and other diagnostic tests.

Court records suggest that's when communication broke down among Mr. Natale's nursing and medical staff. As of the morning of Sept. 8, when an anesthesiologist and a CRNA evaluated Mr. Natale and cleared him for surgery, no one from Mr. Natale's surgical team had reviewed the X-ray. Had they done so, they would have seen that Mr. Natale aspirated the night before.

"It was supposed to have been a garden-variety hip replacement — a relatively benign thing," says Mr. Van Naarden. "But the last thing you want to do with someone who has aspirated is take them into surgery."

Mr. Natale's respiratory status deteriorated in the days after the surgery, and he was transferred to another hospital in an attempt to save his life. He died on Oct. 8 from multi-system organ failure and complications secondary to adult respiratory distress syndrome, which the plaintiffs alleged resulted from his caregivers' negligence.

The jury found multiple defendants &mdash Robert Piston, MD, the orthopedic surgeon; Emil Maurer, MD, the anesthesiologist; and Sharon Regional Health System, where the surgery was performed — each partially liable for Mr. Natale's death. Dr. Maurer and the hospital each reached a private settlement with the Natale family prior to the trial. Mr. Van Naarden says the nearly $5.1 million verdict is among the highest ever awarded in Mercer County.

The defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

Bill Donahue

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