A Baltimore County jury has awarded nearly $4 million to the surviving family members of a 28-year-old man who went into cardiac arrest after a doctor failed to diagnose him with heart disease.
The jury’s award included a combined $3.75 million in noneconomic damages to the mother, father and son of Michael Mills, who died in July 2012. That portion of the award against Hassan Kassamali will be reduced to $887,500 under the state’s statutory cap.
“They’re gratified that the doctor was held responsible and, putting aside the cap issue, I think they’re gratified to see that the jury recognized the magnitude of their loss,” said Jeffrey Peek, one of the attorneys for the family. “When you get a verdict like that, the jury is sending a message that this was a very significant loss.”
The jury deliberated for less than three hours Friday before returning the verdict.
Mills was referred to Hassan Kassamali, a cardiologist, by his primary care physician in March 2012 after complaining of chronic chest pain for more than a year, according to Peek, of Cardaro & Peek LLC in Baltimore. Kassamali diagnosed Mills with “atypical chest pain” without further testing.
Peek said Kassamali breached the standard of care by not performing a stress test, “the most basic test for cardiovascular disease there is,” which would have revealed serious arterial blockages.
Mills returned for an echocardiogram in April and then saw Kassamali in May for continued chest pain, according to the complaint. Mills had a heart attack in his home July 29, 2012 and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“Mr. Mills experienced severe conscious pain and suffering and ultimately death as a result of Defendant Kassamali’s negligent failure to timely and appropriately diagnose and treat Mr. Mills’ extensive cardiovascular disease,” the complaint alleged.
The defense challenged the accuracy of the results of Mills’ autopsy, according to Peek, and called the medical examiner to testify to her findings. The cause of death was cardiovascular disease. (The autopsy was performed because Mills was a relatively young man who died suddenly, Peek said.)
Peek said experts for the defense also contended that heart disease did not kill Mills but could not specify what did.
Kassamali’s attorney, Mary Beth Kaslick of Kaslick & Prete LLC in Frederick, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The trial was difficult for Mills’ family, who witnessed Mills’ heart attack, Peek said.
“They’re four years removed from the worst day of their lives and they have to relive that,” he said.
The family was close, according to Peek, and Mills was very involved in his young son’s life.
“With the verdict and what the jury said about the case, it lets them close a chapter of their life, hopefully,” Peek said.
The money that Mills’ son, now 7, will receive is a fraction of what the jury thought his loss was worth due to Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages, according to Peek.
“I think a case like this illustrates the unfairness of the cap,” he said.
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Evelyn M. Delovich-Wood et al. v. Hassan H. Kassamali M.D. et al.
Court: Baltimore County Circuit
Case No.: 03C14012573
Judge: Ruth Jakubowski
Outcome: Verdict for plaintiff
Award: $3.921 million: $3.75 million for pain and suffering, reduced to $887,500 under Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages; $162,000 for lost services to minor child, $9,000 for funeral costs.
Incident: March 23, 2012 to July 29, 2012
Suit filed: Nov. 18, 2014
Disposition: Sept. 30, 2016
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Jeffrey L. Peek and C. Drew Fritch of Cardaro & Peek LLC in Baltimore
Defense Attorneys: Mary Beth Kaslick of Kaslick & Prete LLC in Frederick
Counts: Wrongful death, survival action