Jury awards $1.1 million in TX negligence case

A jury in Fort Worth, TX, recently awarded more than $1.1 million in actual damages to the husband and son of a 46-year-old Texas woman who died after potentially lifesaving diagnostic procedures were omitted from her regimen of care.

The suit, filed in the 236th Judicial District, claimed the defendants made negligent medical decisions influenced by the budget constraints of a physicians’ group and a health maintenance organization, as well as the pressures of an increased patient volume to keep profits up for a cardiology group. Chuck Barley, whose wife, Janet, died of complications from heart disease in September 1997, filed the suit.

A warranted visit

Court documents indicated, and expert witnesses agreed, that several medical symptoms warranted an office visit and additional diagnostic procedures, not to mention a lifesaving valve-replacement surgery. The week Barley died, she called to request an emergency office visit because of her deteriorating medical condition, but she was denied an appointment to see her physician. The woman had been diagnosed with a severe aortic insufficiency in 1980 that warranted close monitoring of the size and function of the left ventricle of her heart. Significant changes in the size and function of the heart, due to the underlying valvular condition, indicated surgery was needed as early as 1995.

Barley was never given an opportunity to undergo nuclear cardiology studies, cardiac catheterization, or valve-replacement surgery, all of which would have saved her life, according to plaintiff’s counsel Geno Borchardt, JD, an attorney with Barkholtz, Boehme & Borchardt in Fort Worth. "Mrs. Barley exhibited classic symptoms of an enlarged heart, and the standard, lifesaving procedures were not performed," Borchardt says. "The jury made a strong statement that money concerns and physician profits must never interfere with the business of saving lives."

The jury found Janet Barley and Consultants in Cardiology, PA, equally at fault for the damages awarded in the case, but did not find any negligence on the part of the cardiologist, Billie Pugh, MD. A 1997 Texas law allows patients to sue health plans for medical malpractice.