Luke Cheung, a doctor at Hoag Hospital, must pay the family of an elderly woman who died after he failed to diagnose a blood clot in her brain while reviewing a CT scan; the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled this week.
The ruling came down on Wednesday, when the appellate court decided to uphold a jury's decision that Cheung was liable for medical malpractice and awarded Lois Shafer's family $206,356 in damages.
Court documents show Shafer, 85, of Corona del Mar, was taken to Hoag Hospital by her husband the night of Feb. 8, 2009, after she fell at home and suffered a head injury. Dr. Cheung reviewed the CT scan and failed to notice a 7-millimeter collection of blood on her brain's surface. Another emergency room doctor discharged Shafer and told her to go home, resume her normal medications which included Coumadin - a blood thinner- and go to bed, according to court documents.
Shafer's husband attempted to wake her the next morning, but was unsuccessful. She was rushed back to Hoag Hospital where a CT scan revealed a 25-millimeter collection of blood that was compressing Shafer's brain and causing neurological damage, according to court documents. She was taken in for emergency surgery, but the growth of the hematoma caused severe brain damage and she later died.
Shafer's family sued the hospital and Cheung, and in November 2010, a jury ruled Cheung was liable for medical malpractice and awarded the family $206,356 in damages. The jury also ruled Hoag Hospital and the emergency room doctor that discharged Shafer were not liable for her death. Cheung appealed the ruling and claimed Shafer died from the natural course of her medical condition, not from his misdiagnosis of the blood clot.
The appellate court disagreed.
"The experts agreed proper diagnosis and treatment of a 7-millimeter hematoma to a reasonable medical probability would not have resulted in death because any developing neurological issues would have been detected earlier and treated sooner," Justice Kathleen O'Leary wrote in the appellate court's ruling.
In addition to the damages awarded, Cheung is also responsible to reimburse the family for its legal fees accrued while fighting the appeal. State medical board records indicate no disciplinary action has been taken against Cheung.