6/15/2010 - Posted by:
Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby LLP
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Ken Berman, Esq./Mike Feldman, Esq. Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby LLP

Maryland Lawyer (Daily Record)

News and analysis of legal matters in Maryland

Allegany med-mal verdict passes the million-dollar mark

BY BRENDAN KEARNEY

brendan.kearney@mddailyrecord.com

An Allegany County jury has awarded almost $1.5 million to the family of a 66-year-old carpenter who died during a cardiac catheterization procedure in June 2005. But thanks to the state cap on non-economic damages and an earlier settlement reached with the hospital defendant in the case, the plaintiffs are likely to receive only a third of that total.

At the end of a weeklong trial, the jury found Wednesday that Dr. Pradeep Kulkarni had been negligent while administering the test of Robert Kaiser’s heart at what was then known as Sacred Heart Hospital in Cumberland.

The lawyer representing Kaiser’s widow and three grown children argued the cardiologist had perforated one of the patient’s vessels, causing massive bleeding around the heart. The defense attorney claimed Kaiser’s fatal bleed originated elsewhere, according to Kenneth Berman, the Kaisers’ attorney.

“The perforation of the coronary artery was not in itself the negligence; it was the failure of the defendant doctor to recognize it,” Berman said, calling such a breach “fixable” if noticed in time. Berman said Kulkarni had prescribed Kaiser multiple blood thinners that exacerbated the problem, leading the pericardial sac to fill quickly with blood and “strangle” the heart.

Non-economic damages, which are subject to the cap, made up the bulk of the jury’s award, including $500,000 to Kaiser’s estate and $811,000 to his wife, Regina, who retired from the county school system. Once the family’s confidential March settlement with the Western Maryland Health System Inc. is factored in, the jury verdict will be reduced on a pro rata basis to about $500,000, according to Berman.

Conrad Varner, the Frederick attorney who represented Dr. Kulkarni, did not return calls for comment last week.

Berman, a name partner at Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby in Gaithersburg, said Regina Kaiser seemed to be satisfied before the verdict was even read because she told him she “just wanted an answer to what happened to my husband.”

According to the plaintiffs’ August 2008 suit, Robert Kaiser was admitted to the hospital on June 17, 2005, after having a minor heart attack. Three days later, Kulkarni performed the catheterization and, according to Berman, came

KAISER, ET AL. V. WMHS BRADDOCK HOSPITAL CORP.

Court: Allegany County Circuit Court Case No.: 01C08030604 Proceeding: Jury Trial Judge: W. Timothy Finan Outcome: Plaintiffs’ verdict Award: $1,499,390 Dates: June 20, 2005

Aug. 12, 2008 May 5, 2010 Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Kenneth Berman and Michael Feldman of Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby LLP in Gaithersburg Defense Attorney: Conrad Varner of Varner & Goundry PC in Frederick Count: Negligence, wrongful death, survival action

out to tell “Mrs. Kaiser that her husband had come through with flying colors, his heart was very strong, and that he should be fine.”

Minutes later, Mr. Kaiser’s blood pressure had “dropped in half,” Berman said. Kulkarni and a vascular surgeon both worked to save him, but by 3 p.m., a few hours after the procedure began, Kaiser was dead.

Trial before Judge W. Timothy Finan began on May 3. Cardiologist and hematologist expert witnesses testified for both sides, and a defense internist suggested Kaiser would not have lived as long as the standard life expectancy tables indicated, Berman said.

The jury went home after closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon and returned Wednesday to deliberate for about 3½ hours, Berman said. In addition to the non-economic damages, the panel awarded the damages for Robert Kaiser’s medical bills and funeral expenses, as well as $175,000 to Regina Kaiser for “loss of household services.”

“Mr. Kaiser, he basically had built their house, he had built [Regina] a quilting machine, he had built his kids’ kitchens,” Berman said, adding that Robert Kaiser had also done the shoveling and yardwork, plus other outdoor leisure activities with his wife. “All of those things have a cost.”

While Berman believed liability in the case was “fairly clear,” the defense did not and “offered us zero.”

“Mediation lasted about 2 minutes,” Berman said.

Part of the reason for that, Berman posited, was the conservative jurisdiction in which the case would be tried.

Berman said he was told the jury award, before it is reduced, was more than twice the previous record in Allegany County for a medical malpractice case.

Reprinted with permission of The Daily Record Co. ©2010

 
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