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Harford Co. jury awards $1.67M in wrongful death case

A Harford County jury has awarded $1.67 million to the widow of a 57-year-old man who died after a rare condition in his intestine was not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner

Gail Staggs alleged a Bel Air gastroenterology practice was liable for the 2014 death of her husband, Ronnie, who had been suffering from unexplained weight loss and abdominal pain for almost three years.

Post-trial motions have not yet been filed with regard to the medical malpractice cap, but if the court determines the cap applies, the verdict may be reduced to around $1.18 million, said Paul M. D’Amore, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Staggs was admitted to Harford Memorial Hospital on Feb. 24, 2014 to find out why he was losing weight and experiencing abdominal pain, the lawsuit states. He was treated by Dr. Vedapurisan Viswanathan of Harford Gastroenterology Associates PA, one of the named defendants in the lawsuit.

After some tests, Viswanathan suspected Staggs had a rare condition that was causing plaque to build up in his arteries feeding his intestines, according to the lawsuit, which notes condition is treatable if diagnosed in timely manner.

Viswanathan ordered a CT scan that was later cancelled because he mistakenly believed Staggs was allergic to the testing dye, the complaint states. Had that scan been done or another test been done, Stagg would have been diagnosed, the complaint states.

Instead, Viswanathan decided to stop running tests, assuming Stagg could wait to be diagnosed in an outpatient setting, the lawsuit states.

“He simply said it was reasonable to assume that it would not convert into something deadly without making a diagnosis,” said D’Amore.

After Staggs did not get a diagnosis, Staggs believed he had a mental illness and checked himself in the psychiatric ward, the lawsuit states. Two days later, an artery leading to his intestines was blocked, causing Staggs to vomit blood and lose consciousness, according to the lawsuit.

Staggs was rushed to the University of Maryland Medical Center emergency surgery where surgeons found 20 feet of his small intestine was “dead and rotten,” according to the estate’s lawyers.  Staggs was declared “unsalvageable” and died a few hours later, the complaint states.

Following a six-day trial and three hours of jury deliberations, Gail Staggs “felt like she got justice for her husband,” D’Amore said.

“She was incredibly overwrought with emotion over losing him given that she had gone through a 3-year period of trying to get him diagnosed,” D’Amore said. “She felt like that was a tragedy that needed to be righted.”

Attorneys for Viswanathan said Tuesday that they are “evaluating all options.”

“Our sympathy goes out to Mrs. Staggs for her loss.  Sometimes sympathy, rather than medicine, plays a role in the jury’s decision,” said Neal M. Brown, of Waranch & Brown, LLC in Lutherville, in an emailed statement.

Several other defendants were named in the initial lawsuit filed in June 2017, but were voluntarily dismissed. The case was originally filed by law firm Saiontz & Kirk P.A. when attorney Ace McBride was working there. When he moved to D’Amore Personal Injury Law, McBride brought the case over, D’Amore said.

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Gail Staggs, et al. vs Harford Gastroenterology Associates P.A., et al.

Court: Harford County Circuit

Case No.: 12C17001638

Judge: Yolanda Curtin

Proceeding: Jury trial

Outcome: Verdict for plaintiff. $750,000 for pain and suffering; $500,000 for widow’s loss of care, comfort and society; and $420,000 in economic damages

Dates:

Incident: February 2014

Suit filed: June 27, 2017

Verdict: Sept. 26, 2018

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Paul M. D’Amore and Ace McBride of D’Amore Personal Injury Law in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys: Neal Brown and Sammia Dasti of Waranch & Brown in Lutherville

Count: Wrongful death

 


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