A St. Louis County jury rejected a medical-malpractice claim for a woman’s death after surgery to fix her pacemaker.
Sandra Watson, 59, underwent surgery to replace a generator on her pacemaker on Nov. 18, 2010. Her heart stopped during surgery after her blood pressure plummeted so low that she experienced hypotension, or abnormally low blood pressure, which can cut off the blood supply to the brain. Watson was revived but died Dec. 4, 2010. A CT scan confirmed she suffered a brain injury from hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain.
In 2015, her children, Dionna Simon and Damon Watson, sued Northwest Anesthesia, which serves SSM DePaul Health Center where Watson underwent the procedure. They claimed the anesthesiology team failed to see the beginnings of Watson’s medical distress, failed to respond quickly enough to her worsening condition, failed to seek assistance and counsel during the crisis and did not properly document the event.
The plaintiffs sought $1.43 million at trial. A 12-member jury deliberated for two hours before reaching a unanimous defense verdict.
Lead defense attorney Greg Minana of Husch Blackwell in Clayton said the procedure Watson underwent is common for pacemaker patients and a healthier patient might have recovered from the same medical crisis. Because of Watson’s age and generally poor health, she did not survive, he said. Those factors alone were compelling-enough evidence to support a defense verdict, he said. Watson’s cardiac arrest, hypoxia and death were devastating for the family but were not caused by medical malpractice or negligence on the part of the anesthesiology team, he said.
The plaintiff’s expert, anesthesiologist Dr. Paul Laubser, identified six mistakes during and after the procedure, including the alleged mishandling of paperwork and not visiting Watson in the intensive care unit. They were excluded at trial. The defense successfully argued to the court that the mistakes Laubser identified had no bearing on Watson’s medical care during or after surgery by the medical team.
In fact, the resuscitation efforts were “flawless,” Laubser testified in a deposition. Laubser testified he himself had had a patient who suffered a hypoxic brain injury after surgery.
He also agreed with the defense during the deposition that Watson was very sick when she had the surgery. But he did say that he believed what happened to Watson was a “highly unlikely” outcome considering everything done during surgery, from the anesthesia to the surgical care and resuscitation, was managed properly.
The plaintiff’s attorney, James Leonard, said the defense’s main argument was that Watson’s health was so poor, she could not survive the oxygen deprivation as an otherwise healthy person might have.
“I think that’s what the case turned on,” said Leonard, of Devereaux, Stokes, Nolan, Fernandez & Leonard.
The jury did hear under Leonard’s cross-examination that the nurse certified as an anesthesiologist turned off the alarms on the anesthesia machine, he said. The surgeon testified she looked up only after finishing the procedure and noticed the patient wasn’t breathing, he said. There was no record of how long the patient stopped breathing, he said.
Medical malpractice; wrongful death
Venue: St. Louis County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 15SL-CC01844/Feb. 8, 2019
Judge: David L. Vincent III
Last Pretrial Demand: $750,000 (during trial)
Last Pretrial Offer: None
Special Damages: $171,843.90 in medical bills, $6,352.40 in funeral expenses.
Caption: Dionna Simon, Damon Watson v. Northwest Anesthesia Ltd.
Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: James Leonard and Kelsy Vollmer, Devereaux, Stokes, Fernandez & Leonard, St. Louis
Defendants’ Attorneys: Greg Minana and Tanya M. Maerz, Husch Blackwell, Clayton