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Manhattan Jury Clears Gastroenterologist in 37 year-old Father's Alleged Wrongful Death

When plaintiff’s decedent, 37, developed difficulty swallowing and the sensation that something was stuck in his chest or throat, his primary care physician referred him to our client, the defendant gastroenterologist. Our client saw him the next day and performed an upper endoscopy the day after that. Based upon findings of a hiatal hernia and linear erosions in the upper third of the esophagus, and pathology findings which included mild inflammation in the distal third of the esophagus, defendant diagnosed GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). She placed the patient on Omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) which was intended to reduce the production of gastric acid. During a telephone call two weeks later, the patient informed her that his difficulty swallowing had resolved, while certain “trigger foods” he was attempting to avoid were still an issue for him. During that time, the patient developed a worsening and persistent cough and, soon thereafter, dyspnea on exertion. Our client referred him back to his PMD. Three and a half weeks after the endoscopy, he was diagnosed with a mediastinal mass on chest x-ray and CT scan of the chest. Within several days of being admitted to the hospital, he was diagnosed with primary mediastinal B-Cell lymphoma, for which he was started on chemotherapy. The mass, measuring 10 cm by 8 cm at diagnosis, responded to the initial round of chemotherapy very quickly, but he passed away six weeks into the admission. The cause of death was identified as cardiorespiratory complications associated with his cancer.

Plaintiff contended that our client negligently relied upon a diagnosis of GERD and failed to do a complete work-up which should have included imaging of the chest. Plaintiff’s expert gastroenterologist testified that a mediastinal mass should have been within the differential diagnosis, given the complaint and endoscopy findings. Plaintiff’s expert oncologist testified that this particular, fast-growing cancer has a 95% cure rate and responds very quickly to chemotherapy. If treatment had begun just a week sooner, he testified, he would have survived and the cancer been cured. Plaintiff’s experts testified that the dysphagia and linear erosions were caused by compression of the mass on the esophagus. Our client was able to visualize the entire esophagus without difficulty, saw no evidence of compression and conceded that, had there been signs of compression, or if the patient’s GERD had not responded to the treatment, she would have pursued other workup. We called two excellent experts in lymphoma and gastroenterology, and the defendant was herself an excellent witness.

The jury agreed that our client met the standard of care for a consulting gastroenterologist. It took them just 80 minutes to return a unanimous verdict in her favor. The decedent left behind a widow and two children, ages 2 and 5. He was a hedge fund analyst who earned over one million dollars in the year preceding his death.

Categories: Defense Verdict
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