By Lauraann Wood
Law Bulletin staff writer
The estate of a man who died after physicians failed to identify and treat a tear in his aorta has settled its wrongful death case for $6.5 million.
The agreement was entered Monday, one day ahead of opening statements in plaintiff Beth Figaro’s case, which alleged Northwest Community Hospital and several of its physicians failed to recognize the signs and symptoms of her husband Nicholas’ aortic dissection before his condition worsened and eventually caused his death.
Nicholas Figaro, 35 at the time, arrived at the Arlington Heights hospital by ambulance in December 2010 complaining that he had experienced sudden stabbing chest pains. He received a chest X-ray, the results of which were read as normal by physician Vinay Singh despite indicating the portion of his aorta closest to his heart was enlarged.
With consistent unrelieved discomfort, Figaro was admitted overnight and the next morning underwent a stress test. Results indicated he had a cardiac abnormality and that he could possibly have been experiencing an inadequate blood supply to his coronary arteries.
“That was, however, interpreted by the physicians caring for Nick Figaro as being a false positive and in fact read by the defendants as being nothing to worry about and as a result discharged him,” said Bradley M. Cosgrove, a partner at Clifford Law Offices who represented Figaro’s estate.
Figaro left the hospital around 5 p.m. the day after he was admitted, said Michael S. Krzak, a partner at Clifford Law who also represented Figaro’s estate.
He picked up his prescriptions on the way home with his wife and young daughter, Krzak said, then ate dinner, washed up and presented birthday cards to his father before heading to bed.
“At 3 a.m., he got out of bed and fell face-first into a nightstand,” Krzak said. “His wife turned him over and he was unresponsive. (She) and his father tried to give him CPR to revive him, but he did not come back to.”
Autopsy results showed Figaro died from cardiac tamponade, a condition in which fluid fills the sac surrounding the heart to the point that the pressure prevents the heart from beating. That happened, the autopsy showed, because a tear on the inside of Figaro’s ascending aorta caused its middle membrane to fill with blood — which eventually caused the outside of his aorta to burst.
Figaro likely suffered the aortic dissection due to a congenital abnormality of his aortic valve, Cosgrove said.
In May 2012, Beth Figaro sued Northwest Community, Singh, her employer Northwest Radiology Associates, cardiologist employer Dev Medical Associates and various other physicians who saw and treated Figaro the day he went to the emergency room.
She alleged Northwest Community was careless and negligent when Figaro’s physicians failed to properly identify and treat his aortic dissection.
The suit also alleged Singh should have reported an abnormality in the patient’s chest X-ray and ordered further testing.
A reading on the same X-ray by any radiologist, emergency room or tending physician or cardiologist should have indicated an abnormality and required an additional workup, Cosgrove said.
“That workup would have entailed a CT scan, and the scan would have, with almost absolute certainty, diagnosed the aneurysm in Mr. Figaro prior to it rupturing,” he said.
Had the physicians done that, Krzak said, surgeons could have performed an emergency surgery to repair the aorta and he “more likely than not would have lived.”
The defendants denied the allegations. Singh contended Figaro’s chest X-ray was not abnormal and fell within the range of normal variations, and Dev contended its X-ray did not require any follow-up testing when he performed well in his stress test.
Shannon M. McNulty, a partner at Clifford Law who also represented Figaro’s estate, said the defense at one point contended what the plaintiff called an abnormality was actually a shadow. Testimony eventually indicated that a bulge could be identified but the physicians see it all the time, she said.
Some parties entertained the idea of participating in a mediation this summer, McNulty said, but not every physician agreed.
The parties had been sent to trial before Circuit Judge Thomas V. Lyons II and seated a jury when Northwest, Singh, Northwest Radiology and Dev presented their $6.5 million settling offer. That final offer, Cosgrove said, was one of several they made surrounding the jury selection process.
The estate will receive $3.5 million from Northwest Community Hospital, $1 million from Singh, $1 million from Northwest Radiology and $1 million from Dev. All other named defendants were dismissed.
“We hope that the doctors can walk away from the litigation with a newfound sense of how they practice and adhering to the standards of care that they must follow with every patient encounter,” McNulty said.
Krzak said Figaro’s family has a sense of relief that the case is over and can now move on from it to the best of their ability.
“Beth initially brought this lawsuit to find out what happened, and she’s hopeful a lesson was learned so that no other family ever has to go through what she went through in losing her husband from something that a simple CT scan could have prevented,” he said.
Michael T. Trucco, a partner at Stamos & Trucco LLP who represented Singh and Northwest Radiology, declined to comment.
Sheldon A. Brenner, a partner at Brenner, Monroe, Scott & Anderson Ltd. who represented Dev, also declined to comment.
Robert S. Baker, a partner at Baker & Enright who represented the hospital, could not be reached.
The case is Beth Figaro v. Northwest Community Hospital et al., 12 L 4745.