MDI widow awarded $1.1 million in wrongful death lawsuit against EMMC doctor

Posted April 03, 2014, at 4:01 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Bar Harbor woman has been awarded $1.1 million after a jury in a civil trial determined that a doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center was responsible for her husband’s death.

Thomas Haskell, a real estate appraiser and former sporting goods store owner, was 63 years old when he underwent heart bypass surgery at EMMC on Nov. 9, 2010. He was considered healthy and given a good prognosis for the procedure, according to a complaint filed in Hancock County Superior Court by his widow, Melodie Haskell.

But Tom Haskell had complications after the surgery and experienced significant blood loss, the complaint indicated. He died four days later on Nov. 13, 2010.

Melodie Haskell subsequently filed suit against the Bangor hospital and the two doctors who oversaw her husband’s care, Dr. Francis DiPierro and Dr. Felix Hernandez.

Last Friday, a jury of nine people determined by a 6-3 vote that Hernandez was negligent in his care of Haskell and responsible for his death. The jury voted unanimously that DiPierro, who performed the surgery, was not to blame and, by 6-to-3 decision, that the hospital also was not responsible.

The jury awarded Melodie Haskell $400,000 in lost wages that her husband likely would have earned had he lived, $200,000 for the conscious suffering her husband experienced after the surgery, $800,000 for loss of consortium, and an additional $1,150 for the cost of her husband’s funeral. There is a statutory limit of $500,000 on loss of consortium damages, however, so the court reduced the amount by $300,000 for a total of $1,101,150.

Attempts this week to contact Melodie Haskell were unsuccessful.

Melodie Haskell’s attorney, Owen Pickus of Portland, said that there also is a possibility that Haskell could receive an additional $80,000 in interest, but that was open to negotiation with Hernandez and his attorney, Edward Gould of Bangor.

“The money itself is not the issue,” Pickus said Monday. “What was done to Mr. Haskell was wrong.”

Pickus argued that the medical care Haskell received after his heart surgery was negligent because he was not given sufficient blood to replace the amount he was losing through bleeding. Haskell’s vital organs were unable to get enough oxygen due to his low blood levels, which led to multisystem organ failure, Pickus said.

The Portland attorney, who also is a medical doctor, said the hospital did not follow its own guidelines for when a patient should be given a blood transfusion. He said Hernandez should have ordered blood tests to determine if a transfusion was necessary. Pickus also said Hernandez was reluctant to draw more blood from Haskell for testing and instead did a mental calculation in his head to determine how much blood to give the Bar Harbor man.

“You can’t know if you need the transfusion if you don’t test a sample,” Pickus said Monday. Hernandez’s rationale, he added, was “just nonsensical.”

Both sides had medical experts testify at the trial about whether the post-surgical care that Haskell received at EMMC was proper or substandard. Dr. Nevin Katz of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore testified on behalf of Haskell. Dr. Martin Tobin of Loyola University in Chicago and Dr. Aryeh Shander of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J., testified on behalf of the hospital and the doctors.

EMMC released a statement Thursday about the jury’s decision. The hospital’s relevant protocols were reviewed during the trial, the statement indicated, and experts testified that Haskell’s post-operative care was appropriate and successful in stopping his bleeding.

“Experts testified that the cause of death was adult respiratory distress likely caused by pneumonia and sepsis, not due to any alleged lack of blood,” the EMMC statement indicated.

Deborah Carey Johnson, the president and CEO of EMMC, said in the statement that the hospital extends its condolences to the Haskell family.

“We want to improve the health of every patient who comes through our door,” Johnson said. “In this instance, although the outcome was not what we had hoped for, we’re confident the doctors and staff provided appropriate care.”

Gould, the attorney for the two doctors and EMMC, said Wednesday that the defendants were gratified that the jury absolved DiPierro, who is now in practice in Ohio, and the hospital. But they are disappointed that the jury ruled against Hernandez, he added. Hernandez still works at EMMC.

“We feel both doctors and the hospital staff provided good care for Mr. Haskell,” he said.

Gould added that Hernandez has not ruled out filing an appeal.

“We’re considering options,” he said.

 

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