Testimony continues in $3 million med-mal trial

David Yates May 10, 2007, 8:00am

The medical-malpractice trial, which began in Judge Gary Sanderson's 60th District Court May 3, is nearing its climax. The family of the belated Richard Bernard Salter allege the lack of action and incompetence of numerous Memorial Hermann Baptist Orange Hospital medical personnel ultimately led to his death.

They are suing for more than $3 million in damages.

Salter's family claim that Dr. Marshall Packard, the Triangle Hospital Care Group and the Baptist Hospital of Southeast Texas (Baptist Orange) breached the ordinary standard of care by failing to adequately observe, assess, diagnose, treat and transport Salter.

According to the plaintiffs' seventh amended petition, Salter, 36, sought emergency medical treatment at the Orange Hospital on Feb. 1, 2003. He was diagnosed with dehydration and R/O sepsis and held for four hours before being transported to the telemetry unit, where he was attended to by Dr. Packard and a nurse.

Salter did not have a spleen and was highly susiptable to infection.

Medical records and testimony on both sides state the nurse spent 14 minutes with Salter before leaving him "in his time of need" to take her lunch break. The plaintiffs argue that the nurse never properly performed a physical examination. If she had, the nurse might have discovered Salter was suffering from circulatory (fluid) overload, which could dangerously progress to pulmonary edema.

John Davis, the plaintiffs' attorney, said Salter died from fluid in his lungs. Right before his death, testimony showed Salter, who was suffering from dehydration, had consumed three bottles of Gatorade and two Red Bulls in a short period of time.

On the other hand, the defense argues that the nurse was a seasoned veteran with more than 20 years of experience who did not breach the standard of care while tending to Salter, and that nurses are prohibited from making medical diagnosis. Nurses can only assess a pataient's condition and relay the information to a physician.

Medical records showed the nurse's notes on Salter were vague, and that she returned to add more detailed information to Salter's chart only after his death.

John Davis said Salter's wife, Terrie - a nurse at Baptist Orange at the time of the incident - was at home and pregnant with their now 2-year-old son on Feb 1, 2003. She says her husband was ill, took his vitals and sent him to the hospital with a note.

Defense attorney Griffin Vincent says Because Salter was Terrie's husband, the nurses "took care of him as one of their own" and that there was no way they could have "predicted or prevented the tragedy."

Background information

The suit says Salter went into respiratory distress and was in imminent danger of cardiopulmonary arrest; however, the doctor and nurses failed to call a "code or provide proper treatment."

Packard transferred Salter to the Intensive Care Unit. During the transport, he suffered cardiopulmonary arrest.

"Nurses did not offer CPR," the suit said. "Upon arrival at the ICU, the nursing staff called a code. Resuscitation measures were attempted but Richard Salter died."

The family alleges Packard was grossly negligent while caring for Salter, and that the hospital is liable to suit under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Respondeat superior, Latin for "let the master answer," is a legal doctrine which states that an employer is responsible for employee actions.

"The breaches by defendant's nurses were willful and reckless and were the proximate cause of (Salter's) death," the suit said.

The family claims the Texas Wrongful Death Act entitles them to recover damages for pecuniary loss; termination of spouse/spouse, parent/child and child/parent relationship; and mental anguish.

Salter, a plant operator, made around $80,000 a year. The family seeks to recover his lost income for what would have possibly been the remainder of his natural life.

Terrie, Richard, Mary and Richard Salter (Jr.) are represented by attorneys Steven and John Davis and James Bromberg of Davis & Davis, Attorneys at Law.

The defense is represented by Houston attorneys Vincent and Christine York.

Case No. B176-490

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