After a four-day trial, Rich Nagle and Heather Zaug obtained a defense verdict.
On February 9, 2014, the defendant was serving as the on-call general surgeon for a local community hospital. She received three pages from an emergency medicine physician about a patient in the Emergency Department. During their first telephone call, the emergency medicine physician told the defendant that she suspected a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm for which she ordered a CT Angiogram. In response, the defendant told the emergency medicine physician to immediately contact a vascular surgeon. At the time of the second telephone call, the emergency medicine physician had not yet contacted a vascular surgeon. During their second telephone call, the emergency medicine physician told the defendant her impressions of the patient’s CT Angiogram images. Because the emergency medicine physician’s impressions were consistent with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, the defendant reiterated her advice to immediately contact a vascular surgeon. The emergency medicine physician contacted the in-house nurse practitioner for the on-call vascular surgery group. The nurse practitioner evaluated the patient and consulted with the on-call vascular surgeon by telephone. The vascular surgery team recommended that the patient be transferred to a Level I Trauma Center. The patient’s condition deteriorated and he was flown to a Level I Trauma Center. He underwent an exploratory laparotomy, which revealed a bleed from the left gastroepiploic artery—not a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm as suspected. The parties agreed that the patient’s left gastroepiploic arterial bleed could have been operated on by the defendant, a general surgeon. The patient died due to intra-abdominal bleeding. The patient’s personal representative filed suit against the defendant alleging that she failed to appropriately respond to calls from the emergency medicine physician and negligently agreed to transfer the patient to a Level I Trauma Center rather than perform surgery at the local community hospital. The personal representative sought $2,500,000 in damages.
The defendant argued that she appropriately referred the emergency medicine physician to a vascular surgeon because vascular surgeons—not general surgeons—are qualified to operate on ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms. Additionally, the defendant argued that she appropriately agreed to transfer the patient to a Level I Trauma Center because she knew he could receive a higher level of care at that hospital.
Rich Nagle and Heather Zaug tried this case in the Alexandria City Circuit Court on June 27 – 30, 2016. After 50 minutes of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant.