Family blames Christus, HealthSouth for man's sepsis, death

By Kelly Holleran | Feb 10, 2010

The family of a deceased man blames a doctor and medical staff at two local medical facilities for the man's death following a motorcycle accident.

Jan Cunningham and Erin Lee Cunningham McAuliffe filed a lawsuit Feb. 5 in Jefferson County District Court against HealthSouth Rehabilitation Center of Beaumont, Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth and Dr. Stephen B. O'Neil.

The plaintiffs claim their deceased husband and father, Steve Russell Cunningham, arrived at Christus in Beaumont for post-trauma medical care after he sustained severe injuries in a motorcycle accident on Dec. 8, 2007.

During Steve Russell Cunningham's admission, doctors inserted a central intravenous line into his chest on Dec. 17, 2007, according to the complaint. On Dec. 19, 2007, doctors transferred Steve Russell Cunningham to HealthSouth, where O'Neil worked with him for post injury rehabilitation, the suit states.

However during his stay at HealthSouth, Steve Russell Cunningham developed a staph infection and became septic, causing him to be transferred back to Christus on Jan. 2, 2008. There, doctors diagnosed him with MRSA sepsis due to an infected central catheter, the complaint says.

On Jan. 17, 2008, doctors transferred Steve Russell Cunningham from Christus to the Dubuis Hospital, a 36-bed unit within Christus St. Elizabeth for patients that require an extended stay. There he received extended antibiotic IV therapy. Finally, on Feb. 17, 2008, doctors released Steve Russell Cunningham to his home with home health services, the suit states.

However, Steve Russell Cunningham continued to suffer from recurrent MRSA and returned to Christus where doctors diagnosed him with septic shock, according to the complaint.

Steve Russell Cunningham died on March 15, 2008, at age 52 from congestive heart failure and renal failure, the suit states.

The plaintiffs blame Steve Russell Cunningham's death on HealthSouth, Christus and O'Neil, saying they breached the standards of care.

Christus and HealthSouth failed to render appropriate medical treatment and nursing intervention, failed to render proper treatment for an infectious disease and failed to accurately report and document Steve Russell Cunningham's medical treatment, among a number of other negligent acts, the complaint says.

The plaintiffs say O'Neil failed to prescribe the proper antibiotic treatment to combat the infection, failed to properly diagnose Steve Russell Cunningham's condition, failed to control his infection, failed to prescribe therapy appropriate for his diagnosis, failed to timely treat his infection, failed to order appropriate laboratory tests to evaluate his deteriorating condition and failed to timely remove the central line from his chest to avoid infection.

Because of Steve Russell Cunningham's death, the defendants say they incurred health care, funeral and burial costs; lost his love, companionship, society, advice, counsel, maintenance and support; and suffered mental anguish, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs want the court to declare all limitations imposed by the Texas Medical Act null for the purposes of their lawsuit. In addition, they seek special and general damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest, costs and other relief the court deems just.

Christopher S. Smith of Bush Lewis in Orange will be representing them.

The case has been assigned to Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court.

Jefferson County District Court case number: B185-870.

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