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Carroll County jury awards $570K in wrongful death lawsuit

A Carroll County Circuit Court jury has awarded more than $570,000 in damages to the family of a woman who died in June 2012 after doctors allegedly failed to diagnose a hematoma that caused her to go into hemorrhagic shock.

Despite Jane Burkhart’s repeated complaints of near-unbearable pain, her doctors failed to order diagnostic tests that would have revealed the internal bleeding and allowed for treatment, according to the lawsuit.

Emily Malarkey. (File)

Emily Malarkey. (File)

“Certainly it wasn’t intentional — nobody meant to hurt her — but we believe health care providers in the emergency room leapt to conclusions about what brought her there,” said Emily C. Malarkey, who represented the Burkhart family, along with attorney E. Dale Adkins III. Malarkey and Adkins are with Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC in Baltimore.

The verdict, announced last week, included more than $38,000 in medical expenses, $8,900 for the funeral bill, $127,000 in lost household services, $125,000 in pain and suffering damages for Burkhart’s estate, $125,000 in pain and suffering for her husband and $30,000 each in pain and suffering for her five children. The defense did not offer to settle before trial, Malarkey said.

Burkhart arrived at Carroll Hospital Center’s emergency department on May 24, 2012, complaining of swelling in her upper left leg, according to the complaint, filed in November 2014. She was diagnosed with acute deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal condition in which a blood clot formed in the leg travels to the lungs and blocks normal blood flow.

She was given a blood thinner and admitted to the hospital for five days, and then discharged with prescriptions for two blood thinners, the lawsuit states. One of those medications requires a regular monitoring test called an INR to be administered to ensure the dosage is correct. A too-low INR score means the blood thinner dosage should be increased, while a too-high score puts the patient at risk for internal bleeding or the development of a hematoma.

On June 1, several days after she was released from the hospital, Burkhart’s INR score was 1.9, lower than the recommended range of 2 to 3, the complaint states. As a result, her primary care doctor and cardiologist recommended that she increase her Coumadin dosage and return for another test June 4.

But Burkhart woke up two days later with severe pain in her left hip and pelvis — symptoms of a hematoma, according to the lawsuit — and was taken by ambulance to the Carroll Hospital emergency room. She was given a pain reliever and evaluated by a physician’s assistant, Robert Loya, who was practicing under the supervision of Dr. David M. Crane. Loya and Crane were defendants in the lawsuit brought by Burkhart’s family.

Loya noted that Burkhart was having trouble walking due to the pain and that she complained of spasm-like feelings in her thigh, the complaint states.

“Despite Mrs. Burkhart’s complaints of serious pain that awoke her from sleep and that were uncontrolled with narcotic pain medication, no testing or imaging studies were ordered to investigate the source of her pain, and specifically to determine whether her pain was caused by internal bleeding as a result of her anticoagulation,” the lawsuit states.

Instead, Loya made arrangements to transfer her to a nursing home, the suit states. The following morning, a health care provider found her lying on her bed and having difficulty breathing, and an ambulance was called to take her back to Carroll Hospital Center, where doctors determined she was in hemorrhagic shock.

This time, Burkhart’s INR test revealed a “dangerously high” score of 9.9, the suit states. In the hospital’s critical care unit, imaging studies showed she was suffering from a large hematoma. After she received 11 units of packed red blood cells, her condition stabilized, the suit states.

Burkhart remained at the hospital until June 16, when she was transferred to a nursing home because she was unable to move from her bed without help. The next day, Burkhart again became unresponsive. An ambulance arrived, but she died en route to a hospital.

During the six-day trial before Judge J. Barry Hughes, Malarkey said she and Adkins called two expert witnesses, both emergency medicine physicians, while the defense called one emergency medicine doctor.

A jury of two men and four women deliberated for nine hours before returning a verdict last week for the plaintiffs, which included Burkhart’s husband, who was also representing her estate, and her five children.

“The family of Jane Burkhart knew there was something wrong with her care when she came back from the hospital,” Malarkey said. “They finally feel like, number one, they have answers, and number two, they have justice.”

The verdict included more than $38,000 in medical expenses, $8,900 for the funeral bill, $127,000 in lost household services, $125,000 in pain and suffering damages for Burkhart’s estate, $125,000 in pain and suffering for her husband and $30,000 each in pain and suffering for her five children. The defense did not offer to settle before trial, Malarkey said.

Benjamin S. Vaughan, an attorney for the defense, did not respond to a request for comment on the possibility of an appeal. Vaughan is with Armstrong, Donohue, Ceppos, Vaughan & Rhoades Chtd. in Rockville.

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Charles Edward Burkhart Sr. et al. v. Emergency Medicine Associates P.A. et al.:

Court: Carroll County Circuit Court

Case No.: 06C14067670

Judge: J. Barry Hughes

Outcome: Verdict for plaintiffs for $574,510.50, including $400,000 for the pain and suffering of Burkhart, her husband and five children; $8,900 for the funeral bill, $127,000 for lost household services and $38,610.50 for medical expenses.

Dates:

Incident: May 2012 to June 2012

Suit filed: Nov. 3, 2014

Verdict: Jan. 14, 2016

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: E. Dale Adkins III and Emily C. Malarkey of Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys: Benjamin S. Vaughan and Susan B. Boyce of Armstrong, Donohue, Ceppos, Vaughan & Rhoades Chtd. in Rockville

Counts: Estate claim, wrongful death


About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.