Illinois Jury Finds in Favor of General Surgeon in Perforated Trachea Case

Latasha Randall was admitted on June 1, 2010 to Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan, Ill., and was diagnosed with sepsis. Shortly after her admission, she suffered respiratory failure and was intubated.

On June 22, 2010, the defendant general surgeon, Dr. Laurence Gibson, performed an open tracheostomy and was assisted by his physician partner, Dr. Aaron Siegel.

After the procedure, 37-year-old Randall’s face was noticeably swollen and post-op x-rays showed subcutaneous emphysema (air outside lungs, under the skin). Three days later, her attending physician transferred her to Kindred Hospital in Chicago for management of her ventilation, but with a grim prognosis due to her sepsis and other lethal illnesses.

When Randall arrived at Kindred, she was short of breath, and a doctor there ordered positive pressure ventilation (PPV).

Her subcutaneous emphysema increased dramatically over the next several hours, leading to a transfer to Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago where the condition worsened into pneuomothoraces, collapsed lungs and pneumomediastinum. Pneumomediastinum is an uncommon condition. The condition can be caused by injury or disease. Most often it happens when air leaks from any part of the lung into the mediastinum, which is the area between the two lungs. The organs in the mediastinum include the heart and its large veins and arteries as well as the trachea and esophagus.

Two days later, a CT scan revealed a perforated trachea, so Randall was transferred again, this time to the University of Chicago Hospital on June 30, 2010 for surgical management.

At the University of Chicago Hospital, Dr. Mark Ferguson inflated the endotracheal tube cuff to seal the perforation. In spite of that effort, Randall died on July 5, 2010. She was survived by her husband and two daughters, ages 20 and 22.

The family filed a lawsuit against Dr. Gibson and his practice claiming that he perforated the back wall of Randall’s trachea when he inserted the tracheostomy tube during his third attempt to get it into the trachea, but the tube was too short and not put in far enough. It was alleged that he should have used a bronchoscope to help place the tube and ensure it was in the correct position, but he chose not to recognize and treat the perforation during the post-op care, and that the tracheal perforation and its subsequent condition led to Randall’s death.

Dr. Siegel and Vista Medical Center were dismissed from the case on summary judgment a week before the beginning of the trial. Dr. Gibson denied perforating the trachea and maintained the initial subcutaneous error was an expected finding because it took three attempts to insert the tube into the morbidly obese patient who weighed 350 pounds.

The defendant Dr. Gibson argued that the tube he used was longer than the one Randall’s expert identified as long enough. He also argued that the subcutaneous emphysema worsened when the tube became misplaced during transfer to Kindred and that the PPV was used, and the first CT scan at Swedish Covenant showed no perforation. Dr. Gibson also contended that the perforation occurred when well-meaning physicians at Swedish Covenant saw on x-ray that the tube had come out of the trachea, at which time one doctor reinserted the displaced tube and another put in an endotracheal tube at the same time, with the tight fit causing a divot in the membrane located at the back wall of the trachea. The doctors and Swedish Covenant were not sued in this case.

Dr. Gibson also argued that Randall died from sepsis, the air outside her lungs was harmless and the air outside her lungs did not interfere with the ability to ventilate her.

The attorneys representing her family demanded settlement of $2 million and asked the jury for a verdict of $800,000. The defendant Dr. Gibson and his practice made no offer to settle. The jury was asked a special interrogatory, which was: “Did the air outside Latasha Randall’s lungs contribute to her death?” “No.”

Estate of Latasha Randall, deceased v. Dr. Laurence Gibson and Lake County Surgeons, P.C., No. 11 L 569 (Lake County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence cases, physician negligence cases and hospital negligence cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Forest Glenn, Garfield Park, Gold Coast, Greek Town, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Jefferson Park, Koreatown, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lithuanian Plaza), Joliet, Evanston, Cicero, Schiller Park, Bridgeview, Harwood Heights, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Palatine, Palos Heights, Palos Hills and Countryside, Ill.

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