Vietnam vet's widow sues VA over treatment; Lawyer notes slight difference in suing federal government for malpractice

By Carrie Bradon | Feb 25, 2019

PITTSBURGH — A widow recently filed a wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit against the Veterans Administration Healthcare System in Pittsburgh federal court.

Gwendolyn M. Ferris, widow of decedent Patrick W. Ferris, filed a complaint Feb. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania claiming her husband was caused to suffer wrongful death through the professional negligence of the VA Healthcare System.

According to the complaint, on Dec. 9, 2012, decedent had an X-ray that showed a nodular density in his right upper lung area. The decedent was then presented to the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and was seen by a Dr. Ortiz, the suit claims. 

The decedent proceeded to go through other X-ray procedures until it was discovered that he had developed extensive sub-pleural fibrosis with granulomas in February 2013, the suit says. The decedent was, in fact, suffering from a treatable disease but due to the negligence of the defendant, the decedent was not followed up on in the period of time when he should have been, the suit says.

Plaintiff alleges the decedent began experiencing spells of dry coughing in April 2013 and it was not until January 2017 that the decedent underwent a CT that revealed a pulmonary condition that worsened until he died in February 2017. Plaintiff alleges her husband's death was due to the defendant's negligence to properly diagnose and treat the condition.

Brendan Lupetin, attorney for the plaintiff, explained the details of the case.

"Pat was a sergeant in the Air Force who served at least one tour in country of Vietnam," Lupetin told Pennsylvania Record. "More recently he was also the president of Vietnam Veterans Inc." 

His widow is suing the United States. Lupetin explained negligence and personal injury actions against the U.S. are governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

"Substantively, suing the federal government is the same as suing a private health care provider," Lupetin said. "It is a much different process procedurally, however. The FTCA requires claimants to first submit a claim form to the government prior to filing a lawsuit. The government then has a period of time to decide whether to try and settle or deny the claim."

Lupetin said that if a settlement cannot be reached or if the claim is denied, then a denial notice will be issued to the claimant's counsel.

"At that point the claimant is authorized a standard complaint in federal court," Lupetin said. "The lawsuit then proceeds pretty much like any other malpractice case from that point on."

Gwendolyn M. Ferris is seeking a trial by jury for damages suffered by her husband's death, including the destruction of his earning capacity, medical expenses, physical and mental pain and suffering, inconvenience, embarrassment and loss of the pleasures of life.

The plaintiff is represented by Lupetin of Meyers, Evans Lupetin & Unatin LLC in Pittsburgh.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania Case No. is 2:19-cv-00167-CB.

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Meyers Evans Lupetin & Unatin Veterans' Administration

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