Federal Tort Claims Act Case Settles

A Federal Tort Claims Act case involving the death of a patient at a skilled and long term care facility was recently settled by the attorneys of Pierce & Thornton. The decedent, a seventy-six year old woman, was admitted to the nursing home where she was to undergo physical therapy following hospitalization for aggravation of a pre-existing compression fracture in her spine. Upon admission, she was noted to be alert and oriented; however she also had a suspected diagnosis of Parkinson’s and dementia. Her attending physician ordered various labs including a CBC and BMP. He also ordered her foley catheter discontinued. A Nurse Practitioner ordered a urine culture and sensitivity test. Over the course of the next week, the patient’s overall physical and mental condition progressively declined. After complaints by her husband and children, she was transferred to a hospital where she was found to be in septic shock and suffering urinary sepsis, dehydration, renal failure and pneumonia. Several of her laboratory values were critical including a BUN of 155 and a creatinine of 6.5. She was obtunded and suffering from multi-system organ failure. She died within 24 hours of admission to the hospital.

Plaintiff’s allegations of negligence against the attending physician included failing to insure that his orders were carried out by the nurses, failing to determine that various test results were not in the chart and failing to timely and properly monitor the patient’s overall declining condition. The allegations of negligence against the facility included the nurses’ failure to carry out certain physician’s orders including timely discontinuing the foley catheter and failing to insure that test results were placed in the patient’s chart. Plaintiff also alleged that the nurses failed to monitor the patient’s condition and report her decline to the attending physician.

Defendants’ experts contended that they complied with the standard of care in all respects. The attending physician’s experts contended that the patient was suffering from a debilitating neurological condition and had a limited life expectancy. Defendants further contended that the patient died from a rapidly progressing pneumonia that could not be timely diagnosed and treated. Plaintiff contended that the patient died as a result of complications from an undiagnosed and untreated urinary tract infection.

After filing suit in State Court against the attending and the facility, plaintiff learned that the attending physician was employed by a federally qualified health center program and thus a deemed public health service employee. Plaintiff stayed the action in State Court and proceeded under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the attending physician. The Federal case was resolved at a Court ordered mediation for $500,000.00. The State Court action was subsequently resolved at mediation for $750,000.00 for a total settlement of $1,250,000.00. The beneficiaries were the decedent’s husband of fifty-seven years and two adult children.

Medical negligence committed by a healthcare provider employed by the federal government can be pursued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Under the FTCA, a patient of a federally employed physician or a dependent of an active duty military member who is injured or dies as a result of medical malpractice by military medical personnel can pursue a claim in negligence. The attorneys at Pierce & Thornton have successfully handled medical negligence cases against the federal government and have experience in federal court, which is where FTCA cases must be filed. If you have questions regarding potential malpractice committed at a federally qualified health center or VA facility, call one of our attorneys for a free consultation.