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Home E-Weekly October 3, 2017

Record $10 Million Verdict Reached After 80-Year-Old Man Dies From Aspiration

Published: October 2, 2017

RICHARD PELLOCK had been suffering from nausea and vomiting after surgery for bladder cancer.

The family of an 80-year-old Wisconsin man who died after aspirating the contents of his stomach into his lungs during surgery has been awarded a record-breaking $10 million malpractice verdict, according to news reports.

Richard Pellock had developed complications after undergoing surgery for bladder cancer at UnityPoint Finley Hospital in Dubuque, Iowa, in January 2015. In the days that followed, he suffered from nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. Eventually, 6 days after the initial surgery, he underwent exploratory laparotomy surgery to try to rule out bowel injury or anastomotic leak.

According to a complaint filed by Mr. Pellock's widow and son, CRNA James Wieters didn't perform a pre-operative evaluation of Mr. Pellock before administering anesthesia for the second surgery. The family further contended that Mr. Wieters, urologist Alex Horchak, MD and general surgeon Jacob Wagner, MD, knew or should have known that Mr. Pellock has a full stomach when he was induced, and that every precaution should have been taken to avoid aspiration.

According to the complaint, the CRNA and physicians didn't use a nasogastric tube, didn't perform a rapid sequence induction of anesthesia and failed to respond properly after Mr. Pellock aspirated. He died later that morning, reportedly from severe bilateral aspiration pneumonia.

Joanne Pellock, his widow, had sought $25 million for past and future loss of spousal consortium. Mitchell Pellock, the victim's son, had asked for $15 million for past and future loss of parental consortium.

Mr. Wieters, Dr. Wagner, Dr. Horchak and the hospital all denied that negligence had played a role in Mr. Pellock's death, blaming pre-existing conditions and/or failures on the part of others.

After an amended complaint was filed, a jury last month found Mr. Wieters and Dubuque-based Mississippi Valley Anesthesiology, his former employer, negligent.

Lawyers for Mississippi Valley Anesthesiology have told KWWL-TV in Waterloo, Iowa, that they plan to appeal. Mr. Wieters has reportedly retired and could not be reached for comment. Dr. Wagner had no comment on the verdict and Dr. Horchak did not respond to a request for comment. "Because Finley (Hospital) was dismissed from this lawsuit, we have no further involvement in this case," a hospital spokesperson said in an e-mail. "Our thoughts are with Mr. Pellock's family as to this very difficult matter."

Jim Burger

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