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Neuroradiologist Wins Wrongful-Death Verdict

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A neuroradiologist was among two doctors cleared by a St. Louis jury in the death of a woman who was misdiagnosed and received neither surgery nor a pacemaker, though she apparently needed both.

The neuroradiologist can thank, in large part, another neuroradiologist who testified on his behalf. Lawyers for both sides said the jury liked the defense’s experts better than it liked the prosecution’s experts.

On April 19, 2006, according to the lawsuit that led to the trial, Marie H. Burmester came to the emergency department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis complaining of severe back pain after urinating. The lawsuit said she was sent home without undergoing any blood or urine tests or imaging.

She felt worse and returned to the ED on April 21, the lawsuit said. A doctor ordered an MRI, which revealed a cloudy area on Burmester’s spine, the suit said. Mark Levy, a lawyer for the plaintiff, Barbara Epps, Burmester’s daughter, said the hospital began treating Burmester for a kidney infection.

On May 2, the family persuaded Dwight Towler, MD, PhD, to order a second MRI. The lawsuit said that MRI showed a staph infection in Burmester’s spine covering three vertebrae and two discs.

At that point, according to the lawsuit, Burmester got caught in a bizarre Catch-22. Her staph infection required surgery, but neurosurgeons refused to operate because Burmester experienced heart arrhythmia during her hospital stay. But cardiologists would not put in a pacemaker unless the spinal infection was under control.

Burmester died on July 4, 2006.

Epps alleged that Dr. Towler, an internist, should have ordered a follow-up MRI more quickly than he did, and that Joshua S. Shimony, MD, PhD, a neuroradiologist, should have seen evidence of the spinal infection in the first MRI.

According to Missouri Lawyers Media, Bernice Rubinelli, one of 11 jurors who found for the doctors, said:

There was not concrete, specific evidence to support an allegation of malpractice.

William C. Dunning, another lawyer for the plaintiffs (Epps sued on behalf of herself and her siblings), said of the jury, “They gave a little more credence to the experts on the other side than to our experts.”

Those testifying for the defense included neuroradiologist Eric J. Russell of Chicago.

At trial, the plaintiffs asked for $500,000. Before the trial, the plaintiffs turned down a defense offer of $100,000 to settle, and the defendants turned down a plaintiffs’ offer of $290,000.

Related seminar: Musculoskeletal MRI

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