$2 million settlement for stroke caused by atrial fibrillation

Posted on Oct 05, 2010
On October 4, 2010, John Fisher settled a case against a primary care physician from Saugerties for $2 million in Supreme Court, Ulster County.  The case settled during a break in jury selection on the first day of the trial.

In May, 2008, the elderly patient had a near-syncopal episode in which he suddenly and unexpectedly passed out and fell while shopping in Catskill, New York.  The patient was brought to the emergency department of the Kingston Hospital and a 12-lead EKG revealed newly detected atrial fibrillation.  The patient was seen by his primary care physician at the Emergency Department and he was diagnosed with a vasovagal reaction.

Atrial fibrillation is a heart disorder that is well known to cause blood clots in the left atrium of the heart and such blood clots will often travel from the heart through the aorta and carotid artery to the brain.  When a blood clot blocks a cerebral artery, the blockage of the blood supply to the brain can have devastating results, such as a stroke, brain damage and partial paralysis and sometimes death.

Atrial fibrillation causes 25% of strokes in America and the standard of care is to treat the atrial fibrillation with anticoagulant medication ("blood thinner"), known by as Coumadin or Warfarin.  It is commonly accepted that anticoagulant therapy reduces the risk of a stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation by seven-fold.  While there is no guarantee that the patient will not suffer a stroke with anticoagulant therapy, the chance of a stroke is substantially reduced.

After leaving the Kingston Hospital, the patient began experiencing problems with his memory and he was taken to see his primary care physician three days later in Saugerties, NY.  The primary care physician did not perform an EKG or refer the patient to a cardiologist and he did not prescribe anticoagulate thereapy for the patient despite the high risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation.

In January, 2009, the patient had a massive embolic stroke caused by atrial fibrillation and he was hospitalized at the Kingston Hospital, Benedictine Hospital and the Northern Dutchess Hospital for three months.  CT scans of the brain revealed that the patient had a blood clot in the right side of his brain that caused an ischemic stroke (lack of blood supply to the brain).  The stroke caused partial left-sided paralysis and brain damage with significant cognitive deficits.  The patient is confined to a wheelchair and undergoes physical, occupational and speech therapy.

A Life Care Plan was prepared by Joseph Carfi, M.D., a physiatrist from Lake Success, NY, that detailed future medical expenses of the patient estimated to have a present day value of $1.1 million.  The plaintiffs had additional expert witnesses in the fields of internal medicine, cardiology, neuro-radiology, economics and neurology.

The settlement will be used to ensure that the stroke victim will be able to afford the best medical care over the remainder of his life and improve the quality of life of his wife.