Emergency Room Error Leads to Undiagnosed Aortic Dissection – Cook County Jury Awards $3.7 Million in Estate of Michael Hamilton v. Excell Emergency Care, LLC

A Cook County circuit court returned a $3.76 million verdict in the case of Estate of Michael Hamilton v. Excell Emergency Care, LLC, et al., No. 07 L 6654. The Cook County medical malpractice alleged that the decedent, Michael Hamilton, would still be alive if not for the preventable emergency room errors committed at St. James Hospital.

Hamilton presented to the emergency room at St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights complaining of abdominal pain. Hamilton had been at work in a local paint factory when he began feeling dizzy, sweaty, nauseous, and having severe chest pains. Co-workers reported that he was pounding his chest with his fist and laying down in extreme pain. They called an ambulance and he was rushed to the emergency room.

However, by the time that Hamilton presented to the emergency room his severe pains had diminished substantially. Jose Almeida, M.D., the emergency room physician treating Hamilton, failed to document the details of Hamilton’s symptoms and pain at work. Therefore, rather than investigating the cause of Hamilton’s severe pain, he was simply diagnosed with abdominal pain and sent home with no further instructions.

Less than a week later, the 35 year-old was found dead at his home. A medical examiner determined that Hamilton had died of an aortic dissection, which occurs when the bleeding occurs into the aorta. Because the aorta is the major artery carrying blood out of the heart, when there is bleeding in this area it affects the blood flow throughout the whole body. An aortic dissection is considered a medical emergency.

At the time of his death, Hamilton lived with his mother, Evelyn Hart, who brought the Chicago wrongful death lawsuit against St. James Hospital and the emergency room doctor who misdiagnosed Hamilton’s symptoms. The Illinois lawsuit alleged that Dr. Almeida had chosen not to take the necessary steps to diagnose Hamilton’s aortic dissection and contended that had Dr. Almeida taken those steps that Hamilton could have been saved.

At trial, the decedent’s medical experts claimed that the emergency room doctor should have been more thorough when documenting the events that occurred at Hamilton’s work. The medical experts contended that it was the medical standard of care for a physician to document the events leading up to chest and abdominal pain when taking the patient’s medical history and that to not do so was a substantial emergency room error. Dr. Almeida and his experts retorted that he had satisfied the standard of care and not done anything wrong.

Decedent’s attorneys also were critical of Dr. Almedia for not ordering a CT scan given Hamilton’s complaints of chest pain and that this mistake led to the eventual misdiagnosis. If a CT had been ordered it would have likely shown Hamilton’s aortic dissection and would have at least ruled out any other potentially life-threatening conditions. The defense responded by pointing out how rare aortic dissections are, especially in someone in their 30s. The defense maintained the emergency room doctor had acted appropriately in response to someone who presented with abdominal pain that then resolved while he was in the emergency room.

However, the standard practice for physicians is to rule out the most serious cause of abdominal pain first, gradually moving from most life-threatening problems to more common causes. This was obviously not done in Mr. Hamilton’s case, which was likely why the Cook County jury found in favor of the decedent’s estate. The $3.76 million verdict will go to Hamilton’s 12 year-old daughter, who was his only surviving heir.
Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois wrongful death cases and Cook County misdiagnosis malpractice cases for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, Illinois and surrounding areas, including Downers Grove, Matteson, Lockport, Bolingbrook, and Chicago’s Bridgeport.

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