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Family Wins Malpractice Judgment

Jul 13, 2002 | Fort Worth Star-Telegram A Tarrant County jury awarded almost $4.4 million in damages Thursday in a medical malpractice suit filed by the family of the late Reynaldo Zapata of Fort Worth.

Zapata, 49, a sweeper operator, died of a heart attack in May 1997, and the family said three Fort Worth doctors failed to diagnose his condition.

The lawsuit, tried in 17th District Court, was filed against Dr. John E. Staniland, a family practice physician; and Drs. Brett L. Cochrum and Scott M. Pratho, both of whom examined Zapata in the emergency room at Harris Methodist Southwest hospital a week before he died.

Calls to the doctors' attorneys were not returned Friday.

Harris Methodist Southwest and Texas Health Care were also named as defendants, but they settled with the Zapatas shortly after June 10, when the trial opened, as did Staniland, said Dallas lawyer David Norton, who represented the Zapata family.

The jury returned a finding that Harris was not at fault for the care it provided, a Harris spokeswoman said Friday.

Of the $4.386 million awarded by the jury, Norton said, settlements, limits on malpractice insurance coverage and other factors lower the collectable damages to about $2.8 million for widow Lupe Zapata and her children. The plaintiffs' legal fees could claim 30 percent to 40 percent of that, he said.

As of Friday afternoon, no appeal had been filed, Norton said.

Reynaldo Zapata went to the hospital May 19, 1997, complaining of neck and chest pains. Attorneys for the family said Cochrum treated him for an upper respiratory infection.

Zapata returned to the emergency room the next day. Attorneys for the family said Pratho diagnosed Zapata with "nonspecific neck pain" and recommended that he see his family doctor.

Zapata saw Staniland the next day.

"Again, despite risk factors for coronary artery disease as well as evidence of abnormal EKG's [electrocardiograms] from prior hospital visits, Dr. Staniland made no referral for stress testing or any other cardiologic examination," attorneys for the Zapata family said.

Zapata died May 27. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office attributed his death to a myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

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