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Daughter Awarded $3 M After Death of Mom Who Had Do-Not-Resuscitate Order

Janie Vinson was apparently so ill with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that the 79-year-old woman’s family told the medical staff at Albany, Ga.’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital not to try to cure her, but to simply keep her comfortable until she died.

A Dougherty County jury awarded her daughter $3 million for medical malpractice claims resulting from Vinson’s death in March 2002 after she was given what a plaintiff’s expert said was too much morphine too quickly.

Vinson had been in the hospital for more than a week when she suffered respiratory arrest on March 18, 2002. Vinson had stopped breathing by the time a nurse arrived to her room. The nurse called a “code” and the emergency pulmonary team, led by Dr. Thomas Ungarino, responded, but by the time they arrived, Vinson was breathing again.

Ungarino and his team were conducting life-saving measures when Vinson’s treating physician, Dr. Katy Kitchen, arrived and informed them that Vinson had a “do not resuscitate” order in place. With that information, the defense said, the emergency team stopped their efforts and — with the assent of Vinson’s family — changed her care instructions from “curative” to “comfort,” as Vinson’s “family and caregivers agreed that Ms. Vinson’s death was imminent.”

Kitchen, Vinson’s treating doctor, said “‘this doesn’t look good, I’m giving her a little morphine to keep her comfortable,'” and ordered 2 milligrams of morphine.

Ungarino stayed near Vinson to see if she would go to the intensive care unit. “When she didn’t, he looked at her chart, and ordered an immediate 20 milligrams of morphine pushed in. The nurse did it without telling the family what she was doing,” according to the family’s attorney.

Vinson immediately fell into unconsciousness, said the family’s attorney, and she died three hours later.

In 2004, Pruette and a brother, James Vinson, sued Ungarino and Phoebe Putney for medical malpractice.

“We brought claims against the doctor because we thought giving her that large a dose of morphine was a violation of standard of care,” said the family’s attorney, “and against the hospital because the nurse was negligent for giving the dose without notifying the family.”

“Their expert argued that morphine didn’t cause her death because of the three-hour delay,” said the family’s attorney, who countered that testimony with that of Dr. Thomas Hyers, a pulmonary specialist from St. Louis.

The jury took about three-and-a-half hours before awarding Pruette $3 million on Nov. 18.

If you or a family member has been injured because of the fault of someone else; by negligence, personal injury, slip and fall, car accident, medical malpractice, trucking accident, drunk driving, dangerous drugs, bad product, toxic injury etc then please contact the Fort Worth Texas Medical Malpractice Attorney Dr. Shezad Malik. For a no obligation, free case analysis, please call 888-210-9693 or Contact Me Online.

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