On the morning of January 13, 2018, Joseph Brown awoke with shortness of breath and upper abdominal pain, which eventually spread to his chest and back. Taken to Salem Hospital’s emergency department (ED), Brown was seen by Steven D. Browell, MD, an emergency medicine specialist…medscape.com, Docs Misdiagnose Aneurysm and Patient Dies; Must Pay $29M, Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA, June 2023
Browell ordered tests that ruled out both a heart attack and a pulmonary embolism. He called for a blood test, which indicated that the patient’s white blood count was elevated. Suspecting an infection, Browell ordered that Brown be admitted to the hospital.
Accepting Brown’s admission was William D. Kenyon, MD, a hospitalist, who also examined the patient and concurred with Browell’s probable diagnosis.
Neither Browell nor Kenyon had completely ruled out a possible aortic aneurysm and dissection. Brown’s symptoms, after all, were in some ways suggestive of those conditions. Then again, he was very young — only 43 at the time — and his pain, while severe, didn’t correspond to the “searing” pain that, at trial, Kenyon described as typical of an aneurysm and dissection. As the hospitalist testified at trial, Brown had “a constellation of nonspecific symptoms” and an “unusual presentation of a rare condition,” typically seen in patients aged 65 and older.
By early the next morning, though, Brown’s shortness of breath and pain had intensified significantly. The on-duty doctor ordered a CT scan, which showed “a massive aneurysm at the beginning of [the patient’s] aorta and a dissection extending through most of his aorta.”
Brown was flown to Boston to undergo emergency surgery. En route to the helicopter, his aorta ruptured, stopping his heart and causing his death.
During the 8-day trial, each side introduced expert witnesses. Speaking for the plaintiffs, experts in cardiothoracic surgery and emergency medicine testified that the treating physicians were negligent in failing to order a CT scan on January 13. Had they done so, the patient would have almost certainly undergone surgery earlier, which would have prevented his death.
The jury awarded the plaintiffs $20,000,000, to be paid out over time largely to Brown’s two daughters, who were aged 12 and 18 when he died. Including interest, the total award is close to $29 million.