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Burchfield v. Wright

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 28, 2017

ROGER BURCHFIELD AND CAROL BURCHFIELD Plaintiffs-Appellants
v.
FORREST H. WRIGHT, M.D., THOMAS RENDA, M.D., AND WILLIS KNIGHTON MEDICAL CENTER Defendants-Appellees

         Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 585046 Honorable Craig Marcotte, Judge

          THOMAS, SOILEAU, JACKSON, BAKER & COLE By: Steven E. Soileau Counsel for Appellants

          MCNEW, KING & LANDRY By: Brady D. King, II Counsel for Appellees

          Before STONE, COX, and BLEICH (Pro Tempore), JJ.

          BLEICH, J. (Pro Tempore)

         Carol and Roger Burchfield appeal a judgment by the First Judicial District Court, Parish of Caddo, State of Louisiana, in their favor and against the Patient's Compensation Fund in the amount of $ 400, 000.00. The Patient's Compensation Fund ("PCF") answers the appeal, seeking a reduction in the judgment's award. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court, as amended, and render judgment in favor of Carol and Roger Burchfield.

         Facts

         On August 14, 2013, after referral by his gastroenterologist, Roger Burchfield was admitted to Willis-Knighton Medical Center ("Willis-Knighton") for gallbladder surgery to be performed by Forrest Wright, M.D. Pursuant to Dr. Wright's pre-operative orders, Roger arrived at the hospital and underwent a chest X-ray and EKG the morning of the surgery. Roger's EKG was not read by Dr. Wright prior to surgery. The previously ordered EKG indicated: 1) possible left atrial enlargement; 2) nonspecific intraventricular block; 3) possible septal infarct; and 4) inferior infarct. The chest x-ray, which, again, was not read by Dr. Wright, the anesthesiologist, or hospital nursing staff prior to Roger's surgery, showed congestive heart failure. Roger was unaware of any of these conditions.

         With the EKG and chest X-ray having gone unread by Dr. Wright, and despite the findings from the tests, Roger was placed under general anesthesia, and the surgery proceeded. There were no apparent immediate complications, and he was discharged later that day.

         After almost 32 hours (on August 16), Roger presented at an emergency room near his residence with shortness of breath and significant swelling. He was determined to be in critical condition and was transported via ambulance to Willis-Knighton where he was admitted to the intensive care unit. Later, it was concluded that Roger had suffered an acute myocardial infarction (i.e., a heart attack) and respiratory failure, as well as worsening of pulmonary edema, congestive heart failure, and bilateral pleural effusions. Roger was intubated and placed in a medically induced coma. A heart catheterization was performed, by which an intra-aortic balloon pump was inserted to assist the pumping of his heart. Roger was also placed on a ventilator to assist his breathing.

         Apparently, because the damage to Roger's heart was too great, the medical team determined Roger was not a candidate for heart bypass surgery, and he had to be transported to Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, on August 22, 2013. There, he was evaluated for a left ventricular assist device and/or a heart transplant. On September 3, 2013, Roger received a new heart.

         It appears from the record that Roger has had a generally satisfactory recovery from the transplant (however "satisfactory" a recovery can be with a transplanted organ). Nonetheless, he is disabled from his previous lifelong profession as a heavy equipment mechanic, and as a heart transplant patient, he is now laboring under strict medical treatment for the remainder of his life. The life expectancy for heart transplant patients is 13 years; thus Roger, who was 58 years old at the time of this incident, is expected to have, statistically, a much shortened lifespan.

         The Burchfields' case was brought before the Medical Review Panel ("MRP"), which concluded that Dr. Wright had breached the standard of care by failing to review the pre-op tests he had ordered. According to the MRP's opinion, Roger's gallbladder surgery was not an emergency. Further, the MRP opined the chest X-ray report "warranted postponing the surgery until a cardiology consult could be obtained . . . the failure to review the chest x-ray report and request a cardiology consult was a factor of the resultant damages." (Emphasis added).

         The Burchfields filed a medical malpractice claim against the health care providers involved with Roger's surgery. Two of the defendants ultimately were dismissed, and the claim against Dr. Wright eventually was settled for $ 100, 000.00. After a three-day jury trial against the PCF, the jury determined there were no damages caused by the breach of the standard of care, but concluded that Dr. Wright's breach of the standard of care caused Roger a lost chance of a better outcome. The jury awarded Roger a lump sum of $ 680, 000.00 in damages for his lost chance, but it did not indicate if those damages were general or special.

         The trial court, recognizing the medical malpractice statutory cap of $ 500, 000.00, reduced the jury verdict from $ 680, 000.00 to $ 400, 000.00 and rendered its judgment.[1] The Burchfields filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied. This appeal by the ...


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