Punitive Damages: Court Allows Jury to Assess Statements Allegedly Made by Physicians

April 1, 2015 | Health System Risk Management


The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania placed significant weight on a plaintiff's personal recollections about his conversation with an attending physician in allowing allegations of negligence and pursuit of punitive damages to proceed to a jury. The plaintiff filed suit on behalf of his mother, who died after eight days of receiving little or no nutrition or hydration from the defendant hospital and physicians. The patient was known to the hospital from multiple previous admissions, including one four months prior, during which she had been declared incompetent.

After hospital staff made multiple unsuccessful attempts to provide the patient with nutritional support by placing a nasogastric tube, the patient's son, who was also her medical power of attorney, consented to placement of a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube. According to a combination of the patient's medical records and the plaintiff's personal recollections, he tried to speak with the attending physician about his mother's care unsuccessfully for days. When the two did eventually speak, he claimed that the attending physician told the plaintiff that he had discussed the case with the hospital's attorney and that the hospital would not want to treat his mother anymore if the plaintiff did not stop complaining. He also claimed that hospital staff told the plaintiff that his mother had been admitted...

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