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Misdiagnosed stroke victim wins $1.1M

An Edgemere man and his wife have been awarded more than $1.1 million because his symptoms of a stroke were misdiagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome.

David A. Barnes eventually was sent home from Greater Baltimore Medical Center without undergoing the emergency testing requested by his primary care doctor, only to suffer a stroke less than 24 hours later.

The Baltimore County Circuit Court trial had been postponed four times since the lawsuit was filed in September 2005. Most recently, a trial began in February 2010 but was interrupted by the record snowstorms, resulting in an administrative mistrial.

“It’s been a long road,” said Christian A. Lodowski, one of the Barnes’ lawyers. “He was literally weeping when they read the verdict.”

The jury award, announced April 8 after seven hours of deliberation over two days, included $750,000 for pain and suffering, which will be capped at $650,000 under state law. In a statement, GBMC said it might consider an appeal depending on rulings in post-trial motions.

“Unfortunately, the jury’s verdict appears to be based on sympathy for the Barneses and not on the facts,” the statement reads in part.

Barnes was 56 years old on Jan. 26, 2005, when he went to Dr. Allen Halle, his primary care physician, with “weakness, numbness and tingling in his right arm,” according to an amended complaint. The doctor believed Barnes was experiencing stroke-like symptoms and sent him to GBMC’s emergency department for further testing, according to the complaint.

Halle faxed Barnes’ medical record to the emergency department as Barnes and his wife, Laura, drove to the hospital. Laura Barnes attempted to give hospital employees Halle’s orders for tests and share his concern about a stroke but was told “all the beds were full and to sit down and wait,” the complaint states.

David Barnes was eventually seen but evaluated as a low-priority patient with numbness in his right hand, according to the complaint and Lodowski. Dr. Jose V. Rustia then examined Barnes and ordered an X-ray of Barnes’ right wrist, the complaint states. Barnes was discharged at 6:20 p.m. with a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, the complaint states. Twenty minutes later, a nurse left a message for Barnes asking him to return to the hospital for stroke-related tests as ordered by Halle, the complaint states.

Another emergency room doctor performed the requested tests except for one to check blood flow to the brain, according to the lawsuit. That doctor diagnosed stroke-like symptoms and requested a consultation with a third physician, according to the lawsuit. But the consultation never happened and Barnes was discharged around 1 a.m. Jan. 27, the lawsuit states. Barnes suffered a stroke at 5 p.m., the lawsuit states. Later tests found the obstruction in Barnes’ left carotid artery, according to the complaint.

“Unfortunately, due to the lengthy and prolonged delay in the diagnosis and treatment of Mr. Barnes’s true medical condition, Mr. Barnes sustained serious permanent neurological injuries and damages,” the lawsuit states.

Testimony during the nine-day trial before Judge Ruth Ann Jakubowski showed Rustia and nurses were “pointing fingers at each other” as to how the severity of Barnes’ condition was missed, said Lodowski, who tried the case along with Carlos G. Stecco, of counsel to Robinson & Associates in Pikesville.

“There was overwhelming evidence that the nurses of GBMC and the doctor woefully fell below the standard of care,” said Lodowski, a Towson solo practitioner.

The hospital, in its statement, disputed Lodowski’s characterization.

“Mr. Barnes suffered a stroke after he voluntarily left the GBMC emergency department,” it reads in part. “GBMC believes that our nurses in the emergency department and Dr. Rustia at all times met and exceeded the standards of care.”

The defense also showed surveillance video of Barnes performing everyday tasks, but Lodowski reminded jurors that the injuries were cognitive, not physical.

“His injury is from the neck up, not the neck down,” he said.

Ronald U. Shaw of Shaw, Joseph & Just P.A. in Hunt Valley, Rustia’s lawyer, was out of the office late last week and unavailable for comment.

BARNES, ET AL. V. GREATER BALTIMORE MEDICAL CENTER INC., ET AL.

Court:

Baltimore County Circuit

Case No.:

03C05010140

Proceeding:

Jury trial

Judge:

Ruth Ann Jakubowksi

Outcome:

Plaintiff

Award:

$1,123,000

Dates:

Incident: Jan. 26-27, 2005

Suit filed: Sept. 22, 2005

Disposition: April 8, 2011

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys:

Christian A. Lodowski, Towson solo practitioner, and Carlos G. Stecco, of counsel to Robinson & Associates in Pikesville

Defense Attorneys:

M. Natalie McSherry and Katrina J. Dennis of Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore and Ronald U. Shaw and Amanda P. Just of Shaw, Joseph & Just P.A. in Hunt Valley

Counts:

Malpractice, loss of consortium