Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Monday, January 23, 2012

Punitive damages claim

Lawsuit seeks $2 million
for unspecified injuries

By David Baker
Posted Monday, Jan. 23, 2012

A manufacturer of medical devices, an orthopedic doctor and his practice and Samaritan Hospital in Troy are all named in a claim for $2 million filed in August 2011 in Rensselaer County.

But instead of a complaint which would describe – sometimes in great detail – the basis of the claim, the attorneys for the plaintiff have filed only a summons with notice.

Filing just a notice allows the details of a claim to be kept from public view, as attorneys – who at one time often actively sought out news coverage when a lawsuit was filed – now apparently want to protect the entities they are suing from bad publicity.

In a very few cases there is a good reason to limit public disclosure, such as when to do so would reveal the identity of a victim of a sexual assault, or if the lawsuit is on behalf of a child. But an examination of several recent lawsuits in which only a notice has been filed suggests that in most cases it is solely to prevent details of allegations that might damage corporate defendants being published.

The $2 million claim filed in August on behalf of Kathleen Wiley would seem to be just such a case. The lawsuit names the Stryker Corporation, Samaritan Hospital, Northeast Health, Inc., Burdett Orthopedics and Joseph Marotta, M.D.

The notice says: “The nature of this action is products liability, medical malpractice and negligence. The relief sought is compensatory and punitive damages in the sum of $2,000,000.”

For many years, keeping details out of filings to avoid publicity wasn’t necessary; the area’s newspapers, while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising revenue from medical providers, simply ignored the lawsuits. But now that many of those lawsuit are and will continue to be reported here, some attorneys apparently are trying to limit the amount of information that is available to the public.

But this tactic often will only delay the dissemination of plaintiffs’ allegations. Because providers routinely fight every claim, a large amount of information eventually has to be filed, particularly if motions are served. Motions usually have attached as exhibits copies of many of the documents previously exchanged in the action – including the initial complaint.

The plaintiff’s lawyer in the $2-million claim is Kevin Luibrand of Latham. This case will be added to those being tracked and further details will appear here as they become available.

Silence briefly broken

A rarity: A medical malpractice
story lawsuit in a newspaper

By David Baker
Posted Monday, Jan. 23, 2012

On Sunday, the Albany Times Union did something very unusual: it ran a story about a medical malpractice lawsuit against a Capital District hospital.

But the case itself was unusual, in that it went to a jury. Only a tiny fraction of such cases go to trial because, while medical providers routinely fight almost every claim – even when they know they are liable – they seldom risk the uncertainty of a jury verdict and the possible resulting publicly. Instead, they use every available means of obstruction and delay and, only when all those tactics are exhausted and a trial is imminent, will they settle.

Settlements often take place about month before the date of a trial. It’s at that point that the documents generated by a long legal fight have to be filed with the court. And once the case is over, those previously private documents go to the county clerk’s office, where they are available to the public.

In the case reported this week, a Greene County jury found Albany Medical Center Hospital liable for the death of Town of Windham Supervisor Thomas P. Meehan. According to testimony, Meehan, who was 61, died in the hospital in November 2009 as a result of a blockage caused by blood clots that traveled from the site of a hip replacement surgery to his lungs. Blood clots are common following certain types of surgery. The jury found that a doctor employed by the hospital, Aniko Felligi, failed to order scans that would have detected the clots despite classic symptoms of a blockage.

It awarded Meehan’s estate $1.4 million.

Albany Medical Center is reportedly self insured but even if it wasn’t, an appeal of the amount of the award is virtually certain.

The lawsuit was filed in 2010. A check of the Times Union’s archives produced no previous mention of the claim. Meanwhile, as was reported in an earlier post on this page, details of another lawsuit with very similar allegations also have not been mentioned by the area’s print media.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fatal landing

Estate of woman who died at
airport sues doctor, hospital

By David Baker
Posted Tuesday, Jan, 17, 2012

A woman who allegedly was told by a doctor after a surgery that it was safe to travel by air and who died after flying to an airport in the Midwest now has a lawsuit filed on her behalf.

According to legal papers, Tara Kathleen Palmer went to Samaritan Hospital in Troy where an operation on her right ankle was performed by James A. Slavin. After the surgery and discharge from the hospital, Palmer was complaining of fatigue, pain, swelling and restricted motion of her leg and in a telephone call and during an office visit, she asked Slavin if it was safe for her to fly to Boise, Id.

Slavin allegedly told her that it was.

The day after the office visit, Palmer died at the age of 31 in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, allegedly as a result of a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot or clots that traveled to her lungs and caused a blockage.

Also named in the suit is Burdett Orthopedics, Northeast Health, Inc. and Samaritan Hospital, which allegedly failed to provide a working pneumatic compression device.

The same allegation is made against Slavin but it’s not clear from the legal documents if it’s alleged that Palmer was given no such device or was given one that didn’t work.

A check of the Times Union archives produed only an obituary, which says Palmer held a masters degree in education from Russell Sage College, and had taught at Head Start and at the Ark Community Charter School, both in Troy.

The lawsuit was filed by Christina Commisso of O’Connell & Aronowitz in Albany. The filing would appear to create an ethical conflict; the Albany law firm also is representing Northeast Health Laboratories in a case against the state Health Department.

The suit against Slavin and the co-defendants was filed in November 2011. The suit has not yet been logged into the court’s computer system. Information about the defendants’ attorneys was not immediately available.

Unarthorized surgery

A patient receives serious injuries
after a doctor performs
a surgery he
was not credentialed by the hospital to do

This was not in the Capital Region. But if such a case occurred here, you would not read about it in the Albany newspapers.

But you would find the incredible story on this blog.

Stay tuned....


Saturday, January 07, 2012

Code of silence

Study finds most medical errors - including
those that lead to a death - are not reported.

' "Yet even after hospitals investigate preventable injuries and infections that have been reported, they rarely change their practices to prevent repetition of the “adverse events,” according to the study, from Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services." '

New York Times