Family Awarded $5 Million for Dad’s Death Following Hip Replacement Surgery
When more than one hospital is involved and more than one doctor has provided treatment, a medical malpractice lawsuit can become quite complicated. One particularly complicated — and tragic — case involved a 57-year-old Mercer County man, who was first treated in an emergency room and then underwent surgery for a broken hip but whose negligent care in the ER, which led to surgery under less than optimal conditions, was found to have contributed to his death a month later. The surviving family members sued claiming that his death was a result of a breakdown of communications between several groups, which included doctors, nurses, and hospital staff.
After losing his balance and falling from the back of a truck, Thomas A. Natale, Jr. was rushed to the emergency room at Sharon Regional. His hip was fractured from the fall, and he was scheduled to have emergency surgery the next day. Natale had been given a chest X-ray with the results alleging to be “abnormal” — there was no record, however, that a doctor had looked at those results. Natale suffered a respiratory event and complained to a nurse of feeling hot, but even though he had a fever, his respiratory condition was not treated, and doctors cleared him for the hip-replacement surgery.
Natale was prepped for surgery and given spinal anesthesia, which caused his untreated respiratory condition to worsen. He awoke in critical condition and was transferred to West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. He had by then suffered severe respiratory complications and was admitted to the ICU, where he was placed on life support. Natale was taken off life support and died one month later.
The lawsuit claimed that the two emergency room doctors at Sharon Regional failed to properly evaluate Natale prior to hip replacement surgery. All doctors owe patients a standard duty of care, and when a doctor is found to have deviated from this standard, substandard care can be considered negligence. If a standard medical examination had been performed before Natale’s surgery, the chain of worsening events that followed would not have caused his death.
The jury awarded Natale’s survivors $5 million — one of the highest medical malpractice awards in Mercer County – with $2 million awarded to each of his two adult children for the loss of the comfort of their father. Since there were multiple parties involved, the jury found the doctor who never reviewed Natale’s chest X-ray to be responsible for the greatest share of liability (60 percent). An additional doctor who was also involved in Natale’s pre-operative and post-operative care was found to be 15 percent liable. Sharon Regional, the hospital where Natale was treated after the accident, was found liable for 25 percent of his wrongful death.