A Texas emergency physician ended up in court as a defendant in a wrongful death medical malpractice case. Farook Taha, DO responded by unsuccessfully asking the trial court to dismiss the case. When he lost there, Dr. Taha took it to the El Paso Court of Appeals, which ruled that the case should go forward.
The case is styled Farook W. Taha, DO v. Stephanie Blackburn, Individually and On Behalf of Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of the Estate of Jose G. Lazalde, Deceased; No. 08-21-00227-C, El Paso Court of Appeals. You can read the opinion here.
Jose went to the emergency room (ER) at The Hospitals of Providence East Campus, in El Paso, after a bout of abdominal pain that began the day before. Dr. Taha was the emergency physician who saw Jose. Dr. Taha noted in the medical record that Jose had previously suffered from diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis is a painful medical condition were small bulges, called diverticula, develop in the intestines and become inflamed or infected.
Small bowel obstructions
One of the things that emergency physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners have to look out for when seeing patients with symptoms like Jose’s is a small bowel obstruction. This is a medical condition that is just like it sounds—it’s a blockage in the small intestine. Sometimes there’s a complete blockage. Other times it’s a partial blockage.
There are lots of different reasons that a person can develop a small bowel obstruction. The most common are considered:
• Adhesions or scar tissue from prior abdominal surgeries, such as hernia repairs, gastric bypass, or other bariatric procedures.
• Inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease or diverticulitis.
Some small bowel obstructions are medical emergencies that require surgery. These are typically complete obstructions where there’s volvulus, a condition where the bowel is twisted.
Dr. Taha ordered a CT scan of Jose’s abdomen to rule out a small bowel obstruction. The radiologist who reviewed the images reported that they were “suspicious for small bowel obstruction “ in the middle third of the small intestine/bowel.
After getting the radiology results, Dr. Taha consulted with a general surgeon. The surgeon told him that if Jose wasn’t vomiting, didn’t have any pain, and was able to pass gas, he could be discharged with instructions to return to the ER if his condition changed.
Dr. Taha sent Jose home with a diagnosis of gastritis, which is inflammation of the stomach.
Two days later, Jose returned to the same ER. The second CT scan of his abdomen resulted in a conclusive diagnosis of small bowel obstruction. This time, the surgeon who was consulted ordered the placement of a nasogastric (NG) tube. The NG tube is placed through the patient’s nose into the stomach and can be used to remove fluid and decompress the abdomen.
For some reason, the nursing staff didn’t insert the NG tube as ordered by the surgeon. Jose ended up aspirating (breathing in) his own vomit, which caused him to go into respiratory distress and ultimately die. The death certificate specified a cause of death of aspiration pneumonitis.
Wrongful death claim
After Jose’s death, his wrongful death beneficiaries sued the ER physician, Dr. Taha, the hospital, and other physicians. This is called a wrongful death medical malpractice case.
Each state has a wrongful death statute that defines who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Under Texas law, wrongful death beneficiaries are limited to a deceased person’s surviving spouse, parents, and children.
At Painter Law Firm, we have spoken with many grieving family members and friends who did not fall within the wrongful death statute. Unfortunately, we couldn’t investigate their case, but at least were able to explain how the Texas wrongful death statute works. In short, if your relationship isn’t on the wrongful death statute list, you can’t bring a wrongful death claim.
In support of their claim against Dr. Taha, the plaintiff served an expert report from a board-certified emergency physician. The expert‘s opinion was that Dr. Taha’s responsibility didn’t end with consulting a general surgeon. Instead, the expert shared her opinion that the standard of care required admitting the patient to the hospital for further evaluation and treatment, rather than discharging him home.
The expert believes that if Dr. Taha had admitted Jose to the hospital, a NG tube would likely have been placed to decompress his stomach, which would have controlled vomiting and helped resolve his condition.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor care involving a small bowel obstruction in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session about your potential case.