Patient suffers fatal cardiac event after physician fails to order proper testing

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Recent Cases: Medicine

March/April 2011, Volume 26, No. 2

Patient suffers fatal cardiac event after physician fails to order proper testing 

Capovani v. Putnam, N.Y., Albany Co. Sup., No. 3373/08, Nov. 22, 2010.

Darlene Capovani, 39, suffered from congenital heart defects and required a pacemaker since childhood. She consulted cardiologist David Putnam about twice a year regarding her pacemaker and cardiac health. During a visit with Putnam, Capovani complained of dizziness, lightheadness, and shortness of breath. Putnam ordered testing to determine whether Capovani’s pacemaker was working properly and allegedly determined that her symptoms were not attributable to the device.

About six months later, Capovani returned to Putnam, complaining of persistent symptoms. Putnam advised her that she needed a new pacemaker. Although Capovani underwent the change to the new pacemaker, her symptoms continued. Putnam told Capovani that the new pacemaker required adjustment but that if this did not resolve her symptoms, she should obtain another physician’s opinion.

Approximately three months later, Capovani suffered a ventricular fibrillation and died. An autopsy revealed that she had been suffering from hypoplastic coronary artery disease.

She had been a program coordinator earning about $50,000 annually and is survived by her husband and two minor children.

Capovani’s husband, individually and on behalf of her estate, sued Putnam and his practice, alleging he failed to order a thallium stress test in light of Capovani’s symptoms. Had the cardiologist ordered this test, the plaintiffs argued, Capovani would have received a proper diagnosis and life-saving treatment.

The defense argued that Capovani’s presenting symptoms did not warrant performance of a thallium stress test, which would not have revealed hypoplastic coronary artery disease.

The parties settled during trial for $1.5 million, paid by the defendants’ insurers.

The plaintiffs’ experts were Bruce D. Charash, cardiology, New York, N.Y.; and Frank D. Tinari, economics, South Orange, N.J.

The defense expert was Edward Philbin, cardiology, Albany, N.Y.

Plaintiffs’ Counsel

Edward S. Goodman, New York, N.Y.

Comment: For another case alleging failure to diagnose coronary artery disease, see Wargolet v. Medical Protective Co., 19 PNLR 195 (Dec. 2004). Melita M. Biese and James J. Murphy, both of Milwaukee, Wis., represented the plaintiffs.

Documents in the Wargolet case are available, courtesy of Ms. Biese.

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