Pulaski County Jury Finds in Favor of Local Oncologist

Mariam T. Hopkins and Mark D. Wankum successfully defended a Little Rock oncologist against accusations that she was responsible for a patient’s sudden and unforeseen death hours after the removal of a central venous line in his neck. The doctor had been treating the patient for months for a particularly virulent form of cancer that had recently gone into remission. He was hospitalized to treat an infection, which required the placement of a central venous line for the administration of medications. On the day of his death, his line was removed by the nursing staff at the hospital so that he could be discharged. Approximately thirty minutes after the removal, the patient suffered a syncopal episode. The doctor, who was not at the hospital at the time, was notified and ordered numerous tests and transfer to the intensive care unit. After initially suspecting a possible air embolism, the doctor was able to essentially rule that out and focused on other potential causes for this episode—particularly neurological causes. After a stable and uneventful stay in ICU, the patient suddenly coded, exhibiting classic neurological symptoms. After nearly an hour of vigorous resuscitative efforts, the patient was pronounced dead. The doctor ordered a complete autopsy to ascertain the cause of death. Despite obvious indicators of a neurological event, the pathologist did not autopsy the brain, but ruled the death the result of an air embolism. The patient’s family sued the oncologist, alleging she had failed to appropriately treat a suspected air embolism, resulting in his death. After a week-long trial with numerous physician experts and extensive testimony, the jury found the doctor acted appropriately and was not liable.

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