Hospital, doctor dismissed from local med-mal suit

David Yates Dec. 14, 2009, 7:29am

A local hospital and physician claiming that they were wrongly named in a medical-malpractice suit had their case dismissed by appellate justices on Thursday, Dec. 10.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported in October 2008, the family of the late Laura Sebile filed suit against Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont Hospital, two doctors and an anesthesiologist, alleging her death was caused because of their negligence.

In his suit, plaintiff Paul Sebile, along with seven of his children, claims his wife -- who was 70-years old and morbidly obese -- died on Nov. 8, 2006, after doctors performed an "unnecessary heart surgery."

As required under Texas Civil Law, the plaintiffs attached the expert opinion of Dr. Shabir Bhimji, a cardiothoracic surgeon, to the suit.

In response, Baptist Hospital and Dr. Juan Gonzales, the anesthesiologist named as a defendant in the suit, separately objected to the plaintiff's allegations and expert report, calling the suit's accusations vague and broad and the expert report unspecific.

"The plaintiffs' expert report never articulates how (Dr. Gonzales') alleged negligence caused Mrs. Sebile's death," an appeals brief states.

On July 10 a hearing to dismiss was held in Judge Gary Sanderson's 60th Judicial Court, where the judge denied both defendants' motions "with little guidance as to why," court papers say.

The ruling prompted the defendants to file individual appeals.

On appeal, the hospital and doctor argued that the plaintiff's expert report does not address the hospital's alleged negligence.

"The report has only one conclusory sentence on causation ... that an unspecified drug ordered by the nurses played some unspecified role," the hospital's appeals brief states.

Both defendants contended that Laura Sebile's death "can be (solely) traced to the surgical complication" she suffered when the surgeon punctured her heart.

Their arguments apparently swayed justices serving on the Ninth Court of Appeals of Texas, since the court reversed Judge Sanderson's ruling and dismissed both defendant from the suit.

"Bhimji's statements as to the nurses are conclusory, since they are not linked to any facts, and they do not explain precisely what the nurses' alleged departure from the applicable standards of care were, or how the nurses' alleged negligence caused or contributed to Sebile's death, writes Chief Justice Steve McKeithen in his opinion.

"Bhimji's report fails to discuss causation with sufficient specificity to inform Baptist of the conduct of its nurses that appellees have called into question and to provide a basis for the trial court to conclude that appellees' claims have merit. We sustain Baptist's issue. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's judgment and render judgment dismissing appellees' claims against Baptist (and Dr. Gonzales)."

Case background

The suit alleges that Laura Sebile was discharged on advice and pain pills even though a chest X-ray found evidence suggesting congestive heart failure.

Dr. Arfeen Qamar referred Laura Sebile to Dr. Fallon Gordan, and she was immediately booked for a biopsy of her lymph nodes on Oct. 25, 2006.

Neither doctor considered that congestive heart failure may have been the possible reason for Laura Sebile's problems, according to the complaint.

In addition, the doctor did not order a cardiology consult before surgery despite Laura Sebile's past open heart surgery, the suit states.

Paul Sebile claims before the biopsy, his wife was placed under anesthesia by Dr. Juan Manuel Gonzalez, who allegedly did not check her medical history.

Gordan, who had ordered the anesthesiologist, also failed to perform necessary tests, the suit states.

During the "unnecessary" and "risky" procedure, Gordan punctured Laura Sebile's heart, according to the complaint.

A cardiac surgeon was called in to stop the massive bleeding, which had started after the puncture, the suit states.

Laura Sebile could not eat or talk after the incident, developed multi-organ failure and died 13 days later on Nov. 8, 2006, according to the complaint.

Later, Paul Sebile claims he found out the only samples ever sent to pathology were rib fragments, not lung tissue as originally indicated.

According to the complaint, Laura Sebile suffered gross abuse, extensive neglect and undue pain while she was a patient at the hospital and under the care of its doctors.

"Mrs. Sebile's basic needs were ignored and her dignity was disregarded," the suit states.

The Sebile family is represented by Jane S. Leger of Provost Umphrey Law Firm in Beaumont.

Baptist Hospital is represented in part by attorney Kendall Gray.

Dr. Gonzales is represented in part by attorney Larry D. Thompson.

Trial case No. B182-575

Appeal case Nos. 09-09-00333 and 09-09-00363

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