Medical Malpractice Verdict in Cabarrus County
On November 15, 2016, a jury of 12 citizens of Cabarrus County returned a verdict of $6.13 million in favor of the Estate of a Cabarrus County resident who suffered a fatal heart attack hours after being discharged from Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast. Fifty-three-year-old Anthony Savino presented to the emergency department via ambulance for complaints of chest pain and numbness in his arms. Mr. Savino was subsequently discharged from the emergency department after initial testing and suffered a fatal heart attack five hours later at his home.
The presentation of these events by the trial team representing the Estate of Mr. Savino led the jury to find that CMC-Northeast acted negligently and with reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others. This finding of “reckless disregard” is the first of its kind since the passage of a 2011 law that capped the number of certain damages a jury can allow in medical malpractice cases. As a result of this finding, the recovery by Mr. Savino’s Estate was not limited or reduced.
The trial team of R. Kent Brown, Jon Moore, and Paige Pahlke of Brown Moore & Associates in Charlotte represented the Estate of Anthony Savino against the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority doing business as Carolinas Healthcare System. Kimberly Sullivan and Russ A. Brinson of Horack Talley in Charlotte represented the hospital.
Mr. Savino’s visit to the emergency department was prompted by a neighbor’s 911 call following Mr. Savino’s complaints of chest pain and numbness in his arms. An ambulance arrived at the scene and paramedics transported Mr. Savino to the hospital, during which time they administered aspirin, nitroglycerin, and an IV in adherence with the EMS chest pain protocol.
According to the lawyers at Brown Moore & Associates, a critical breakdown in communication between hospital staff took place after the ambulance arrived at the hospital. This failure was ultimately cited by the Estate’s attorney as one of the problems that ultimately led to Mr. Savino’s death.
“We were able to demonstrate…that had he gone to [the] chest pain unit…the signs and symptoms of the oncoming heart attack would’ve been visible…and he would’ve had a good chance of surviving,” one of the Estate’s attorneys said.
Upon reaching the hospital, the paramedic testified she alerted a nurse that Mr. Savino had been treated for mid-sternal chest pains radiating into both arms that had been relieved by nitroglycerin and aspirin. The receiving nurse signed a form containing this information. The nurse, however, denied receiving this information. The hospital did not make the paramedic’s chart part of Mr. Savino’s medical chart for the emergency physician to see. In the emergency room, Mr. Savino was administered incomplete testing which yielded normal results and led to his release from the hospital.
Attorneys for the Estate presented testimony from experts in cardiology and emergency room care who testified the lack of training and the failure to implement common protocols lead to Mr. Savino’s premature discharge and death. Dr. Andrew Selwyn, a cardiologist from Harvard University, testified that the hospital’s own protocols required that Mr. Savino be further evaluated in the Chest Pain Unit even despite the initial normal tests. Dr. Selwyn testified that if the hospital’s protocols had been followed, Mr. Savino’s chance of survival would have been in excess of a 90%.
In light of the evidence concerning the lack of communication by the nurse, the lack of a hospital policy requiring paramedic information to be placed in a patient’s chart, and the hospital’s decision not to implement its own treatment procedures, the jury found CMC-Northeast acted negligently and with a reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.
The finding of reckless disregard negates the $515,000 cap on non-economic damages enacted by a 2011 state law. Because the hospital was found to have acted recklessly, the Estate was entitled to payment for non-economic damages totaling $5,500,000. The $5.5 million in non-economic damages was awarded in addition to $680,000 in economic damages, combining for a total of $6.13 million to be recovered by the Estate. Brown Moore & Associates is the first – and only – law firm since the adoption of the 2011 state law to successfully argue that a medical provider’s negligence constituted a reckless disregard for the rights and safety of a patient.
The hospital has appealed the verdict.