Failure to Diagnose Esophageal Tear Leads to Death and Verdict

Yesterday, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $1.2 million to the wife of man who died following being negligently discharged to home with a life threatening condition.  55 year old Michael Scarpa, a retired railroad worker, died just 2 days after he was discharged from Tyler Memorial Hospital.  Mr. Scarpa had arrived at TMH with complaints of chest pains and vomiting over a three day period.  Despite these complaints, Mr. Scarpa's doctors told him to take some cough medicine, get some rest and see his primary care physician in a few days.  2 days later he died.  At autopsy, the medical examiner showed that Mr. Scarpa had an ulcerated and perforated esophagus that allowed food to enter the area around his lungs known as the pleural cavity.  This led to his blood becoming poisoned and ultimately his death.

An esophageal perforation is a essentially a hole in the esophagus that allows food to pass out of the esophagus into the mediastinum, the surrounding area in the chest.  This usually results in the mediastinum becoming infected.   Esophageal perforations typically occur during a medical procedure, violent vomiting, trauma or injury to the chest, swallowing a foreign object or extremely caustic chemical, a tumor or a ulcerated area on the esophagus.   When a perforation occurs, pain is the most common symptom.  Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, chest pain or breathing problems.  Patients are also often found to have a fever (sign of infection), elevated breathing rate, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, neck pain or air bubles under skin if perforation is near the top of the esophagus.   Physicians generally order x-rays or CT scans of the chest in order to determine if there is a perforation. 

In terms of treatment, a surgical option is always available to repair the tear.  More conservative measures include giving IV fluids or antibiotics to treat the infection, draining of fluid around the chest and lungs or the placement of stent over the tear to allow it time to heal without being irritated by the passing food.  In the case of a tear in the upper portion of the esophagus, some patients require the insertion of a feeding tube into their stomach because they are unable to eat or drink normally. 

At STSW, our lawyers routinely handle "failure to diagnose" cases that involve mistakes/negligence made by doctors and physicians both inside and outside of hospitals in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area.  These cases always require a careful look at the voluminous medical records, laboratory studies and radiology films.  Our extensive experience in this area has enabled our team to both settle and successfully try to verdict numerous multi-million dollar cases involving physicians' failure to diagnose a wide range of medical conditions including cancer, internal bleeding, infection, foreign bodies left inside a patient after surgery, and other illnesses.  If you or a loved one believe that a physician mistake / negligence has led to a failure to diagnose a life threatening condition, call our team for a free consultation at 410-385-2225.