March 28, 2017, PNLR E-Newsletter

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Failure to transfer patient to coronary care unit

photo of ekg screen

The plaintiffs alleged that a hospital had breached the standard of care by failing to transfer a patient to the coronary care unit when he experienced chest pain and tachycardia. The jury awarded about $3.6 million. Zuluaga v. Angelopoulos.
 

Nelson Zuluaga, who had a history of atrial fibrillation, went to a hospital complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain. He was diagnosed as having a rapid heartbeat and recurrent atrial fibrillation. He was administered beta blockers and anticoagulants and admitted to the facility’s telemetry floor. Early the next morning, nurses noted that Zuluaga’s chest pain had returned; telemetry strips also showed five beats of ventricular tachycardia. A resident examined Zuluaga, prescribed pain medication, and ordered an EKG—which showed an increased QT interval above 500 milliseconds. That night, when telemetry strips showed another five-beat run of ventricular tachycardia, an attending nurse notified a resident, who never responded.

The next day, Zuluaga was found unresponsive. Despite a resuscitation attempt, he suffered brain damage that left him in a vegetative state for about five months. His condition later improved somewhat, but he suffered fatal respiratory and cardiac arrest after his feeding tube became clogged.

He had been earning $40,000 annually as an auto mechanic and is survived by his wife and two adult children.

Zuluaga’s son, on behalf of his estate, and his wife sued the hospital, alleging it had breached the standard of care by not transferring Zuluaga to a coronary care unit. Suit also claimed the defendant’s resident failed to respond to the second run of ventricular tachycardia.

The jury awarded about $3.6 million.

Citation: Zuluaga v. Angelopoulos, No. 9398/2012 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nassau Cnty. Feb. 15, 2017).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Richard A. Gurfein, New York City.

Plaintiff experts: Bruce Charash, cardiology, New York City; and Debra Dwyer, economics, Centereach, N.Y.

Defense expert: Stephan Danik, cardiac electrophysiology, New York City.