Memorial Hermann wrongful death trial ends with $2 M judgment for plaintiff

David Yates Nov. 29, 2007, 7:43am

Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont Hospital

Jurors awarded the late Lester Thomas' widow and daughter more than $2.1 million in damages on Nov. 26, charging Memorial Hermann with negligently causing Thomas' death.

The trial, Patsy Thomas et al vs. Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas began Nov. 6 in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court.

Despite the expert testimony of Dr. James Wallace, who said Thomas, 64, was overweight, a diabetic, had a chronic smoking history, and likely suffered a heart attack and died because of his various health conditions, jurors decided a miss-inserted nasogastric tube caused his death.

Before he died of an alleged infection, an X-ray revealed a nasogastric tube lodged in the late Thomas' right lung. Thomas' widow and daughter contended their benefactor "suffered gross abuse" while in the care of Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont Hospital medical personnel.

The plaintiffs argued the tube in Thomas' lung caused him to cough, which tore his surgery stitches and allowed an infection to cultivate.

Jurors found the hospital 60 percent negligent for Thomas' death and awarded the plaintiffs $2,130,3000 in damages.

Thomas was admitted to Memorial Hermann in May of 2003 for a benign tumor in his rectum. During his stay, routine X-rays revealed a nasogastric tube inserted in Lester's right-lower lung.

On May 20, 2003, Lester Thomas allegedly died of pneumonia with sepsis.

Patsy and her daughter, Kimberly Wood, blamed the hospital and its physicians and nurses for Lester's death, claiming the personnel negligently cared for him and failed to follow hospital procedure.

Lester's widow and surviving daughter filed their medical-malpractice lawsuit with the Jefferson County District Court on Aug. 25, 2003.

The plaintiffs alleged the miss-inserted nasogastric tube caused a "domino effect," which ultimately led to the pneumonia that claimed Lester's life.

On the other hand, the defense argued Lester Thomas' infection was clearing up, and that Lester's death certificate, which cites pneumonia as the cause of death, is in error.

"(Thomas suffered) a cardio pulmonary death…it could have been a heart attack," testified Dr. Wallace. "It is impossible to tell though without an autopsy."

According to MedicineNet, a nasogastric tube (NG tube) is passed through the nose and down into the stomach. It is a flexible tube made of rubber or plastic and can be used to remove the contents of the stomach, including air, to decompress the stomach, or to remove small solid objects and fluid, such as poison. An NG tube can also be used to put substances into the stomach when a patient cannot take food or drink by mouth.

Barbara Hatcher, one of the nurses who cared for Lester during his stay at Baptist, testified that in her 20-year nursing career, until Lester she had never seen a case of an NG tube being left in a patient's lung for days.

Hatcher was the first to note that the tube may have been out of place. Her medical charts indicated that she was unable to hear air passing through the tube and that "white drainage" was flowing from the tube.

The suit named several physicians as defendants, but all the defendants, aside from Baptist Hospital, settled or were dismissed before the start of the trial.

The plaintiffs' lawsuit alleges Baptist Hospital Beaumont breached the applicable standard of care by failing to institute appropriate medical treatment and instituting medical treatment, which exacerbated Thomas' life-threatening and unstable condition in the following ways:

- By failing to properly monitor Thomas;

- By failing to timely institute proper nursing interventions;

- By failing to communicate pertinent information timely to the physician and appropriate supervisors;

- By failing to continuously evaluate and re-evaluate Thomas;

- By failing to enforce the policies and procedures, which were in effect;

- By failing to obtain further diagnostic testing;

- By failing to provide adequate continuing education for the nurses;

- By failing to properly supervise the nurses rendering care to Thomas;

- By misrepresentation to the public that it is staffed and equipped to provide certain services and a specific level of care to patients.

Patsy and her daughter asked jurors to award them damages for Thomas' pain and suffering, plus wrongful death and survival damages.

Jurors awarded the plaintiffs $1,002,000 for loss of companionship, $659,000 for mental anguish, $400,000 for Lester Thomas' pain and mental anguish, $61,000 for medical expenses and $8,300 for funeral expenses.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Sheldon, Jordan & Dunham law firm.

Case No. A170-875

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