$14.5 Million Awarded in Abdominal Compartment Syndrome Case in Massachusetts

The family of Chelmsford woman who died a day after thyroid surgery at Brockton Hospital was awarded $14.5 million by Middlesex County, Massachusetts jury in a medical malpractice case this week after five hours of deliberation. Pursuant to favorable provision of Massachusetts law, the award included more than $5 million in interest.

Plaintiff’s decedent was a 30 year-old woman who went to the doctor because of a lump on her thyroid gland. Her surgeons did a biopsy on the benign lump but in recovery someone noticed that her abdomen was swollen and her stomach and legs had turned blue. She apparently developed abdominal compartment syndrome from air that had gotten into her stomach.

The doctors did what they should have done initially. The operated again and released the air. Unfortunately, the surgeons immediately closed the wound immediately without letter all of the air escape. She was flown to Boston Medical Center for surgery but died later that day.

I cannot imagine how this case went to trial. Often the doctor’s medical malpractice lawyers defend these cases on the basis of the difficulty of diagnosis of abdominal compartment because it often occurs in patients with other causes of circulatory or respiratory failure. So the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim is usually defended on the basis that the doctor did not diagnose abdominal compartment syndrome because the patient’s symptomology was consistent with other problems and the patient died or suffered severe injury before the condition was uncovered. In this Boston medical malpractice case, diagnosis was not the problem. Instead, it was the conduct after of the doctors after they knew of the condition that led to the medical malpractice.

One more comment about the case: when the woman was in trouble, they transported her by helicopter to another Boston hosptial. If I’m getting elective surgery, I much rather do it at the hosptial where they are going to be sending me if a problem does occur.

You can find the Boston Globe story on this case here.