Phila. jury renders $6.4 million plaintiffs' verdict in medical malpractice, wrongful death case

By Jon Campisi | Jun 7, 2012

A Philadelphia jury last week rendered a $6.4 million plaintiffs’ verdict in a medical

malpractice and wrongful death case filed two years ago by the family of a man who died from a massive heart attack mere months after being released from a city hospital.

The jury’s decision came after a weeklong trial before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Rosalyn K. Robinson, court records show.

The litigation was initiated back on March 1, 2010, by Wyomissing, Pa. resident Frederick Nice, administrator of the estate of the late Derrick Harlem.

The defendants originally named in the case were Temple University Hospital, Temple University Health System, Temple University School of Medicine, Temple University Health System Foundation, Temple University and doctors Robert T. McNamara and Marsha W. Edwards.

Derrick Harlem was 38 years old at the time of his death on Nov. 12, 2009, court records show.

Nice, Harlem’s estate administrator, filed the civil action on behalf of Harlem’s five surviving children, who range in age from 1 to 8.

The children are Harlem’s beneficiaries and entitled to wrongful death and survival damages, the complaint stated.

According to the lawsuit, Harlem’s ordeal began back on May 31, 2009, when emergency medical personnel transported the man to Temple University Hospital’s emergency room with complaints of chest and shoulder pain.

Harlem, who the lawsuit stated had a history of atrial fibrillation, began to experience chest and shoulder pains while playing basketball earlier that day, the record shows.

While at the hospital, Harlem was assessed by resident physician Edwards and attending physician McNamara.

The lawsuit claimed that the doctors failed to order cardiac biomarkers and a lipid panel for Harlem, who at the time had an elevated white blood cell count.

Following further testing, Harlem was diagnosed with having pneumonia and syncope and discharged from Temple’s emergency department at about 9 that evening.

Exactly three months later, on Aug. 30, 2009, emergency medical personnel were called to the scene of a man having a seizure in North Philadelphia.

Upon arrival, the emergency workers found Harlem vomiting and spitting and coughing following a game of basketball, according to the lawsuit.

After suffering from a seizure and going into shock, medical workers took Harlem back to Temple University Hospital, where he was placed on mechanical ventilation.

The following evening, Harlem was diagnosed with an acute heart attack with cardiac arrest and anoxic brain injury.

Harlem went on to be treated for the heart problems, as well as for pneumonia and an infected abdominal wound.

He was discharged from Temple to a long-term care facility on Oct. 7, 2009.

Between that day and the date of his death on Nov. 12 of that year, Harlem remained ventilator-dependent and had to undergo numerous medical procedures, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claimed that the various defendants’ negligence led to Harlem’s ultimate demise. The suit contained counts of both negligence and corporate negligence.

The trial opened on May 21 and commenced with a jury verdict for the plaintiff’s on June 1, court records show.

Causal negligence was attributed to the three defendants who made it to trial: Temple University Hospital, and doctors McNamara and Edwards.

According to the verdict sheet, McNamara was found to be 88 percent negligent, Edwards was found to be 10 percent negligent and Temple was determined to be 2 percent negligent in Harlem’s death.

The verdict breakdown included $5,657,039.82 for total Survival Act and wrongful death damages plus $750,000 for pain and suffering, totaling $6,407,039.82.

The plaintiff in the case was represented by attorney Matthew A. Casey of the Philadelphia firm Ross Feller Casey LLP.

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