$3M med-mal suit ends in mistrial

David Yates Jun. 6, 2007, 8:00pm

The $3 million medical malpractice trial that has been tying up Judge Gary Sanderson's 6oth District Court for the last six weeks ended in a mistrial on Monday, June 4.

Jurors had been deliberating since Thursday, May 31, but failed to craft a fair judgment for the family of the late Richard Bernard Salter.

Plaintiffs' attorney John Davis said that he was grateful to get back home to his family, but disappointed that several years worth of work ended in a mistrial. He added that a new trial may possibly be slated for the fall, perhaps as early as November.

When asked by the Record if it was the facts or the amount of money that jurors could not agree upon, Davis said it was the facts and that the "length of the trial didn't help much." He added that he and his team of lawyers would work to "shorten up" the next trial.

In an effort to avoid a hung jury scenario, Judge Sanderson handed down a dynamite charge to the jury; but despite the intervention, jurors failed to see eye-to-eye.

This was Davis' first mistrial in his 26-year career of practicing law. He and his team have another upcoming wrongful death trail against Baptist Orange Hospital, which is also in Judge Sanderson's court.

The Record attempted to reach Defense attorney Griffin Vincent for comment, but he did not return our phone calls.

The trial and testimony

The Salter family alleges the lack of action and incompetence of numerous Memorial Hermann Baptist Orange Hospital medical personnel ultimately led to his death. They asked jurors to award them more than $3 million in damages.

Salter's family claims 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 court documents, 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 by Dr. Packard and a nurse.

Salter had previously undergone surgery to remove his spleen in 1997, which medical experts agreed made him highly susceptible to infection. An autopsy report revealed he died of sepsis, a severe infection.

The defense argued that no matter what course of action medical personnel pursued, Salter was going to die of "overwhelming" infection. Expert testimony by the defense said his survival rate was below 50 percent.

The defense also argued that Salter died because of his own laxity, saying he should have gone to the hospital the night before when his temperature reached 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the other hand, medical records and testimony on both sides state the nurse spent only 14 minutes with Salter before leaving him "in his time of need" to take her lunch break.

The plaintiffs argued 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 easily progress to pulmonary edema, a dangerous condition.

Davis said Salter died from fluid in his lungs, not just infection. Right before his death, testimony showed Salter had 2,500 milliliters of intravenous fluid in his system, the equivalent of three bottles of Gatorade and two Red Bulls. "This man drowned to death," Davis said.

Conversely, 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 patient's condition and relay the information to a physician.

"These were good nurses," said Griffin Vincent, defense attorney. "They provided good care."

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.

"All the evidence in this case, I believe - proves the (medical personnel) dropped the ball," Davis said, adding that if Salter's oxygen was simply increased to 100 percent, he would still be alive today.

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