Failure to Timely Treat Pulmonary Embolism Leads to Settlement

Article posted on:07/09/2008

Recently, in Ohio, the family of a 38 year old woman who died of a pulmonary embolus shortly after being admitted to the hospital, settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor for 5.85 million dollars. The decedent had suffered from leg pain and shortness of breath for several days. She consulted an internist who admitted her to the hospital. Several hours later, the doctor ordered various tests to rule out or diagnose hypercoagulability. These results were extremely elevated. Shortly thereafter, the woman was found unresponsive in her hospital bed. An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a pulmonary embolism. The estate of the woman sued the internist, alleging a failure to timely treat the pulmonary embolism, arguing that the doctor should have immediately ordered a STAT chest CT scan, ordered an ultrasound following admission and initiated heparain therapy. The defendants argued that the heparin would not have prevented the death because the clot was old and would not have been dissolved by the drug. After testimony from the experts, the parties reached settlement in the amount stated above.

A pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage of a significant blood vessel such as an artery in the lung, caused by a blood clot.  In a majority of cases, the clots are small and do not result in any damage.  However, if the clot is larger and blocks the flow of blood to the lung, it can cause catastrophic consequences, including death.   The hallmark symptoms associated with pulmonary embolism are an acute onset of shortness of breath and a sharp chest pain that worsens upon inspiration (breathing) or coughing.   Other symptoms that have been documented include excessive perspiration, lightheadedness or fainting, elevated heart rate or heart palpitations and feelings of anxiety.   The clots that eventually get stuck in a blood vessel more often than not do not originate in the lung or even the heart.  Instead, they are caused by pieces of clots that break off of a bigger clot in the legs and travel up through the body all the way to the lungs. 

There are several well known risk factors for developing blood clots, and hence, pulmonary emboli.  For starters, sedentary individuals (inactive) are more prone to developing these types of clots.  As a result, persons who have undergone surgery and are bedridden are often at a higher risk.  This is why recovering patients are often given blood thinners prior to or after surgery and are given compression-type stockings to place on their feet (so as to break up any possible clots that are trying to form).   In addition, recent surgery involving the legs, hips, belly or brain creates a heightened risk as do some diseases such as cancer, stroke or severe infection.   Smoking or taking birth control pills have also been noted to cause an increased risk of developing blood clots.  Finally, persons of advanced age develop clots more frequently than younger individuals. 

If you or a loved one has been the victim of an undiagnosed blood clot that became a pulmonary embolism, call our lawyers for a free consultation or visit our website to set up your free consultation.