The twin sons of a Miami woman who died after delayed abdominal surgery were awarded $8.5 million.
Clementina Brown was admitted to Miami’s Palmetto General Hospital with severe abdominal pain, was seen by a variety of doctors, went into shock after spending more than a day at the hospital and went into respiratory and cardiac arrest on Mother’s Day 2005.
Dr. Jose Martinez Alba, a surgeon who consulted by phone on the case and arrived the next day shortly before the attack, resuscitated Brown and performed surgery to relieve a bowel obstruction.
But she never regained consciousness, lapsed into a vegetative state and ran up more than $5 million in medical bills before dying at a nursing home Feb. 13, 2007.
A key issue in the trial before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger was a hospital policy giving doctors up to 24 hours for consultations.
Family attorney Brett Panter said Alba should have responded sooner.
The Miami defense team of brothers Gilbert Valdes Alba Jr. and Geoffrey Valdes, nephews of the doctor, argued he met the hospital policy and the standard of care. They also maintained the nurses failed to tell him the woman went into shock even though he left instructions by phone to be alerted if her condition worsened.
Alba arrived after Brown’s mother called him personally.
The jury set damages of $8.5 million Friday and attributed 30 percent of the blame to Alba for a $2.55 million verdict against him.
The primary care physician was found 55 percent responsible and the nurses 15 percent, but Alba was the only defendant who went to trial.
Both sides agreed to allow the verdict to come from a five-member panel instead of the standard six after a juror missed Friday’s session with kidney problems.
Jurors deliberated about four hours following a four day trial.
“This was a tragedy that could have been avoided,” Panter said. Other attorneys for the family are John M. Perez, David Sampedro and Josh Wintle of Panter Panter & Sampedro in Miami.
The lawsuit was filed before Brown died, and jurors were shown a videotape of her after surgery. One of her sons, who were 11 when she was hospitalized, testified briefly.
“Our defense was that there was no objective criteria for coming in any sooner than he did, and he faults the nurses and other doctors on the case for not notifying him after she went into shock,” Gilbert Alba said.
All other defendants reached confidential settlements before trial. Alba said his uncle is uninsured and collection is unlikely.