Sixty-two year old Joe Baldwin woke up on Saturday with acute onset of severe chest and abdominal pain. He was taken by his wife to the Emergency Department at Crossroads Community Hospital in Mt. Vernon, Illinois and was assessed by an emergency medicine physician. A CT Scan of the chest revealed what appeared to be pneumonia. Mr. Baldwin was admitted to the Crossroads Intensive Care Unit. Later that day, Mr. Baldwin was seen by an employed physician, Dr. Elizabeth Cox, a family physician, whose physical examination of Mr. Baldwin showed excruciating abdominal pain with a belly that was very tender to the touch. Dr. Cox indicated in her medical notes that the patient presented “quite a puzzling picture” and noted that “there is more going on here than meets the eye. At this time we have more questions than answers. I will see how he is doing by morning.” Dr. Cox ordered a CT Scan of the patient’s abdomen with contrast “tonight if possible” and left the hospital around 8:30 p.m. Due to a back-up in radiology from the emergency room, the CT Scan was not performed. Late that night, Mr. Baldwin’s family decided to transfer the patient to another local hospital. By the time the patient reached the second hospital at around 2:00 a.m., he was unstable and required intubation. A CT Scan of the abdomen was performed shortly after arrival and showed a perforated peptic ulcer. Mr. Baldwin was diagnosed as septic, but had to be stabilized before he was taken to surgery the next morning to repair the perforation. Unfortunately, he died. The death certificate revealed sepsis due to perforated ulcer.
Suit was filed and Plaintiff’s experts alleged that Dr. Cox failed to recognize and diagnose the cause of the patient’s severe abdominal pain, failed to order the CT Scan in a “stat” or immediate fashion and failed to get a surgical consult. The experts believed that Mr. Baldwin was showing signs and symptoms of “acute abdomen” and needed immediate surgical intervention. If surgery had been performed in a timely fashion, Plaintiff’s experts testified that Mr. Baldwin would have survived. Dr. Thomas Spence, defense expert, testified that it was within the standard of care for Dr. Cox to have ordered the CT Scan as she did, but admitted that it also would have been acceptable had she ordered it “stat.”
Amy Collignon Gunn, attorney for the Baldwin family, believes the case was bolstered by the testimony of a subsequent treating physician, Dr. Richard Garretson. “Often times my clients tell me that their treating physicians are critical of the defendant doctor or hospital, but when it comes time to testify they have reservations and will refrain from offering opinions.” In this case, however, Dr. Garretson supported the allegations of negligence and causation. “He really showed courage because Mt. Vernon is a small medical community and Dr. Garretson believed that a mistake had been made and wasn’t afraid to say so,” says Ms. Gunn. Mr. Baldwin, a local business owner, was survived by his wife of almost 40 years and his adult daughter. The matter was set for trial and directly prior to jury selection on that date, the parties reached settlement for a confidential amount.
Amy Collignon Gunn