Heart Attack Mistakenly Diagnosed as Stomach Bug Leading to Death

In 2014, an Alabama jury awarded the widow of a man who died from a heart attack nearly $4,000,000 in damages after emergency room physicians negligently failed to diagnose him as being in the midst of a heart attack, and instead, sent him home with a diagnosis of a common stomach bug.  The case, filed against the emergency room physician and hospital, centered on the fact that the decedent developed classic signs and symptoms of heart trouble, including chest pain, sweating and general discomfort on the morning of January 11th.  Over the course of the next day, he continued to feel ill.  The following day he presented to the hospital with the same signs and symptoms.  While in the hospital's emergency room, the emergency medicine doctor who evaluated him failed to question and/or rule out the possibility that the decedent was experiencing a heart attack, and in fact, dismissed him after just 4-5 hours in the ER.  Perhaps more significantly, the emergency room physician failed to order the requisite blood tests that are commonly done to rule out a heart attack and to check to see if there has been any cardiac damage or ischemia.  The decedent subsequently returned to his home where he died later that same day.

What was surely argued in the Alabama case is that emergency room physicians are trained to know that if a patient is experiencing a blockage of blood vessel that is resulting in a heart attack, there is roughly 90 minutes to treat the blockage in order to preserve the heart muscle.  Doctors typically three primary tests to diagnose or eliminate the possibility of a heart attack as quickly as possible.    Those tests are and EKG (a test that examines the electrical function of the heart); and blood panel (a healthy heart contains enzymes within the muscle - but during a heart attack those enzymes can be released into the bloodstream over a period of several hours); and a chest x-ray (to look for signs of an enlarged heart, blood flow problems a pulmonary embolism or a collapsed lung).  With these readily available tests, doctors are able to quickly ascertain whether a patient has or is experiencing a heart attack.  Failure to order these tests is often deemed to be a breach in the standard of care = negligence. 

If you or a loved one have suffered injury or death as the result of a physician's failure to perform readily available tests to rule out the possibility of a heart attack, call our lawyers at STSW for a free consultation at 410-385-2225.