10/09/07 — Hospital wins lawsuit claiming wrongful death in ER diagnosis

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Hospital wins lawsuit claiming wrongful death in ER diagnosis

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on October 9, 2007 1:45 PM

A Goldsboro area man's death in Wayne Memorial Hospital's emergency room wasn't caused by negligence of a doctor or other employees, a jury found.

A malpractice suit filed against the hospital and an emergency room doctor ended Friday when a jury decided that 46-year-old Walter A. Hargrove was not a victim of malpractice or negligence in October 2004.

Wayne Memorial's director of emergency medicine, Dr. Lloyd Hamlin Smith, was named along with the hospital in a lawsuit filed by the administrator of Hargrove's estate, Stella G. Swinson.

Fayetteville attorney Wade Byrd represented the estate.

Byrd said he and his client were "crushed, crushed -- stunned and crushed," by the verdict.

"It's too early to decide" whether Ms. Swinson would pursue further legal action, he added.

Byrd said the jury's decision, reached after deliberations on Friday, was a mystery to him.

"I hadn't had the chance to talk to the jury, so I don't really know where on earth they were coming from," Byrd said.

According to court records, Hargrove went to the emergency room at 6:10 a.m., complaining of chest pain.

He told nurses and doctors he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, and had been suffering from wheezing and coughing, according to court records.

Smith evaluated him and asked if he had family history of heart disease, and Hargrove said no, according to court documents.

Hargrove also said he had been borrowing a friend's metered-dose inhaler, intended for the treatment of asthma. He also told doctors that he had a family history of asthma.

According to the original complaint filed by Byrd, Smith ordered a chest X-ray, an electrocardiogram and blood work. The tests came back normal at the time, Smith testified in his deposition.

As Smith prepared to release Hargrove with a diagnosis of bronchitis and planned treatment of an asthma inhaler, nebulizer, an antibiotic and pain medication, he was found unresponsive on a stretcher, the complaint states.

At approximately 8:34 a.m., cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and attempts to use a defibrillator were unsuccessful, and Hargrove was pronounced dead.

Byrd said doctors should have assumed cardiac problems from the onset.

"A (46)-year-old African-American male, two-pack-a-day smoker shows up in the emergency room," Byrd said. "Until proven otherwise, that's a cardiac patient."

Smith and others argued that Hargrove's troubles presented themselves as lung problems.

"He's wheezing. He's coughing. His chest wall is very tender when I push on it," Smith said when being deposed. "I think he's strained some muscles from wheezing and coughing."

But Byrd said that lung problems don't exclude coexisting heart problems, and argued that Wayne Memorial employees were negligent because they did not attach Hargrove to a heart monitor.

"Even the defense expert testified that it was negligence not to have this man hooked up to a monitor," Byrd said. "You can have pulmonary or breathing problems at the same time as you're having (heart problems)."

"We are very sympathetic to the family for the loss of Mr. Hargrove. After thorough review, we have maintained that all the individuals involved in this case showed compassion and sound judgment in the care of Mr. Hargrove, and we are pleased that the jury could come to that same conclusion," hospital officials said in a statement.