Med-mal trial against local hospital ends with $1.4 M verdict

David Yates Jan. 25, 2010, 7:11am

A Jefferson County jury hit Christus Health Southeast Texas with a $1.4 million verdict Thursday, concluding that St. Mary Hospital nurses were negligent in their treatment of the late Stacy Meaux.

In November 2008, Meaux's mother, Mary Ann Licatino, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit which alleged Christus Hospital St. Mary nurses and Dr. Michael Peterson incorrectly diagnosed and treated Meaux.

Meaux died of a heart attack a day after receiving treatment from Christus nurses and Dr. Peterson.

While Dr. Peterson opted to settle in August, Christus Health chose to defend its treatment of Meaux in a civil trial that began Jan. 12 and ended Jan. 21.

Jurors found Dr. Peterson was 20 percent in his treatment and diagnosis of Meaux, pushing the remaining 80 percent of the blame upon Christus.

Court papers show that Meaux went to the emergency room at Christus St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur on Oct. 2, 2007, complaining of chest pain, chest discomfort and tightness.

The triage nurses at St. Mary designated Meaux at Level 3, indicating she did not face imminent death.

Christus expert Dr. J. Kobar testified that he the "triage was appropriate."

"They (Christus nurses) met the standard of care," he said. "There was no evidence that she (Meaux) should have been triaged at level 1 or even 2."

According to court documents and his testimony, Dr. Peterson treated Meaux for irregular breathing and then, seeing no immediate danger to her life, discharged her.

Peterson had prescribed Captopril - a drug used to treat hypertension, heart failure and improve survival after a heart attack - and an inhalation treatment with Albuterol before discharging her at 8:15 p.m.

The next day, Meaux died of a heart attack.

"My impression at the time was that (Meax's chest pains) were not of cardiac origin," Dr. Peterson testified on Wednesday. "I just didn't think it was her heart. I had another explanation."

While she was a patient at the hospital, ER doctors performed two EKGs on Meaux.

Meaux's family claims one EKG was reported normal but the other showed a Septal Infarct abnormal EKG.

Plaintiff's attorney Clay Dugas said during opening statements that Meaux might be alive today if Christus nurses had correctly triaged her as Level 1 or 2.

During testimony, Dr. Peterson said he made the right call when he kept Meaux at Level 3.

However, the doctor did admit "he could have done things in a different manner" and perhaps saved her life. "If the nurses miss-triaged her, it was my responsibility to correct."

Meaux was over 40 years old, overweight, smoked and suffered from diabetes - all conditions which the Meaux family contends Christus and Dr. Peterson failed to take into account when she was admitted.

Jurors divided up the 1.4 million verdict between several of Meaux's surviving relatives.

Case history

An ambulance was dispatched to Meaux's house on Oct. 3, 2007, the day after she had been discharged from St. Mary's.

Meaux was apneic and without a pulse when the ambulance arrived, and paramedics tried to resuscitate her without success, her family claims.

According to the complaint, an autopsy confirmed that she died from acute myocardial infarction and severe atheroscierotic disease.

Meaux's family claims the nursing staff at Christus St. Mary Hospital violated nursing standards because they failed to assess Meaux's condition, failed to inquire and determine the nature of the chest pain and failed to discuss the case with the emergency room attending physician.

Nurses also failed to trigger the chain of command with a call to the nursing supervisor when no satisfactory resolution could be reached and failed to ask for orders from the ER physician for biochemical marker studies, according to the complaint.

Christus was represented in part by attorney Erin Lunceford of the Houston law firm Sprott, Rigby, Newsom, Robbins, Lunceford & Bell PC.

The trial was held in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court.

Case No. D182-712

More News