I came across this interesting case, today; a Massachusetts jury has found a doctor negligent in the death of a college basketball player. The 22 year old student collapsed and died, during a 2005 game, of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
At issue in the case was the fact that the doctor had examined the student in 2001 for the purpose of determining whether he was medically eligible to play college sports. The exam disclosed a "slight systolic murmur" but the doctor declared the student in excellent health, placed no physical restrictions on him, and signed a clearance form to that effect. But, the doctor also, apparently, ordered an electrocardiogram (EKG), which would have revealed the more serious condition, but the test was never performed. According to attorneys representing the plaintiff, her opinion to clear him to play should not have been made without further examination and workup.
I want to focus on one area of controversy in the case because it points out the difference between a plaintiff’s attorney’s perspective of medical malpractice litigation and a defendant’s attorney’s perspective. Plaintiff’s attorney argued that more workup was necessary and that the clinic had no record of the plaintiff ever being examined there (except for the completed release form). As a result, they argued, successfully, I might add, that nobody followed up and the condition went undiagnosed. Defense attorneys argued that the physician ordered the EKG and that the plaintiff never showed up. They argue that it is sad that a young man died, but the doctor "ordered the test".
Sounds reasonable to some, right? The doctor ordered the test, the plaintiff didn’t show (if you are inclined to believe the defense’s argument); what more can be done? The plaintiff is responsible for his own death, right?
Wrong. Here’s the problem: If the doctor felt that an electrocardiogram was indicated and a preliminary exam found a "slight systolic murmur", why did the doctor clear the student to play? Why did she sign the form? He was a young, impressionable, athelete; she was the professional. Why not condition his clearance upon the completion of the test? I am certain that this was the "more workup" that the plaintiff’s attorneys were refering to.
Here is my message to the defense attorney: Yes, sir, it is a sad case, and maybe your client ordered the test. But her failure to complete her examination before declaring the student to be in "excellent health" breached the standard of care, directly caused his death, was negligence, thus was medical malpractice. Even if the young student failed to show up, his attendance would have been guaranteed, had she conditioned his clearance on completion of the EKG. Failing to do so was, in my opinion (and the Suffolk County jury’s) malpractice. While other doctors examined the student over the last few years of his life, all of whom were provided the heart murmur report, their apparent negligence does not excuse the first doctor’s original negligence in losing track of her patient and failing to perform the test she deemed necessary.
Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company congratulates the attorneys and the family of this unfortunate young man on finally receiving justice in this case and we offer our condolences to the family on the loss of a vital and talented young man. Their attorney said (about the family): “They finally feel like justice has been done.’’ Amen to that.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.