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Case Summary

On June 14, 2016, a previously healthy 3-year-old child presented to the emergency room with her mother with various concerning symptoms. She was discharged about two hours later without diagnostic testing. The child worsened over a period of a few days, despite repeated visits to medical offices and hospitals, and finally received diagnostic testing on June 18, 2016, after being found lifeless on the floor of her father’s bedroom. The E. Coli infection she had caused extensive, lifelong injuries and conditions that could have been prevented had she been monitored and supported at her initial visit. A jury awarded the plaintiff just over $18 million for medical malpractice.

Key Highlights

  • A healthy 3-year-old sought medical help over several days for worsening symptoms, only being admitted for 3 months after her fourth visit despite pending test results for a potentially deadly infection.
  • Expert testimony revealed her severe injuries and lifelong illnesses could have been prevented had she been admitted, tested and treated during the earlier presentation of symptoms.
  • The jury awarded the plaintiff just over $18 million in the medical malpractice case.

SLU Medical Negligence: Case Analysis

On June 14, 2016, at about 7:00 PM, a previously healthy 3-year-old child presented to the emergency room with her mother with complaints of stomach pain, multiple episodes of diarrhea, fever and elevated vitals. She was discharged from the emergency room about 2 hours later without any diagnostic testing, and diagnosed with diarrhea and fever, prescribed ibuprofen, and sent home. Her mother was told the symptoms would resolve on their own. The discharge instructions indicated that the mother should “seek immediate medical care” if the child began to have blood in her stool.

The symptoms did not resolve. Instead, they got worse. On the evening of June 15, 2016, mom noticed blood in her 3-year-old’s diarrhea, and immediately made an appointment to see the primary care provider, located at the same local hospital, on the morning of June 16, 2016. Upon arrival, the patient was seen by a pediatric nurse practitioner, presenting with symptoms of blood in her stool, dry mouth, nausea, and weight loss. The nurse practitioner ordered a stool culture to test for a specific strain of E. coli known as E. Coli O157:H7. The child also exhibited symptoms of dehydration. The defendant admitted that E. Coli O157:H7 is the most common cause of bloody diarrhea in children, and that it carries the potential to cause kidney failure and a deadly syndrome called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

Despite knowing that the 3-year-old had already been to the emergency room, that her symptoms were worsening, and that she could have a deadly strain of E. Coli, they chose not to admit her for observation or treatment. Rather, they gave her mother Pedialyte and Tylenol and sent them home.

About 3 hours after being discharged for a second time, the mother called the office frantic. She said that her child’s “symptoms have worsened and now she is vomiting.” Mom reported “that the diarrhea is still continuing. Vomit has no blood but mom very worried that she is getting worse.” Mom reported that her 3-year-old was lethargic and was not urinating. They told mom to take her child back to the ER for evaluation of “dehydration/treatment.”

Mom and child arrived at the hospital’s emergency room at 3:07 PM. It was their third visit to the hospital in 48 hours. The symtpoms were getting worse and she was severely dehydrated. She was vomiting, defecating blood and having to go diarrhea every 10 minutes, which was all liquid and blood, no solids. She was finally evaluated by a physician who knew this was the family’s third time to the hospital, oral hydration had failed, her dehydration was getting worse and she had test results pending that could show a deadly strain of E. Coli. However, he still did not admit her to the hospital. Instead, he provided her with 20 ml of fluids intravenously, diagnosed her with viral gastroenteritis and sent her home. A resident physician conducted a complete blood count, which the plaintiff argued contained evidence of a hemolytic process – raising the alarm for the potential of the serious, life-threatening condition HUS.

The plaintiff’s parents were distraught and did not know what to do. Their 3-year-old child continued to be sick, defecating blood and not eating or drinking.

On the morning of June 18, 2016, the child’s father found his daughter lifeless on the floor of his bedroom in a pool of bloody diarrhea. He picked up his daughter in his arms and, without getting dressed, drove her back to the hospital. She was finally admitted and remained there for 3 months. Upon admission, she was diagnosed with an acute kidney injury secondary to dehydration. The test results returned later that afternoon were positive for E. Coli O157:H7 + Shiga-Like Toxin.

During her hospital stay, the 3-year-old child developed a host of complications, including kidney failure, seizures, neurological failure, and diabetes. The injuries she sustained required her to undergo intensive rehabiliiation, chronic dialysis, and a lifetime of kidney transplants and hospitalization.

The plaintiffs alleged that St. Louis University was negligent in their failure to admit the child for monitoring and supportive care as her symptoms worsened. The defendant disputed liability and causation, stating they provided adequate care and treatment per CDC guidelines for dysentary and claimed that had they admitted her, the outcome of the disease would have been the same.

SLU Medical Negligence Case Outcome and Impact

A previously healthy 3-year-old is now and will permanently be an insulin dependent diabetic with high blood pressure, kidney disease, and cognitive injury.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in failing to admit the child to the hospital for proper monitoring and supportive care. The plaintiff presented expert testimony that she would not have suffered any of the injuries she did, nor have any of the permanent injuries she suffers from today, had she been admitted and provided with supportive care in the form of monitoring, volume expansion, and as-needed dialysis.

After an 8-day trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding a total of just over $18 million. The awarded damages were based on the hospital’s failure to admit her for proper monitoring and supportive care at her first visit, which would have prevented her permanent injuries.

Additional Case Information

For more information about the case, contact the plaintiff’s attorneys from the Simon Law Firm: John G. Simon, Timothy M. Cronin and Johnny M. Simon.

Contact The Simon Law Firm, P.C.

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