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Hospital Settles Lawsuit

Nearly $1M to be paid in fatal misdiagnosis

Aug 4, 2005 | Pioneer Press
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Regina Medical Center in Hastings has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to the family of a 49-year-old woman who died in 1999 after doctors repeatedly sent her home with flu-like symptoms.

Attorneys for the hospital, Allina Medical Clinic and the family of Patsy Sara Myers reached the settlement last month on the eve of a scheduled wrongful death trial in Dakota County District Court.

Myers, of Hastings, went to the medical center's emergency room on Dec. 23, 1999, complaining of a fever, cough and sore neck, according to a lawsuit filed by her family. After chest X-rays, blood and spinal tests, Myers was sent home with instructions to rest, drink more fluids and take Tylenol or ibuprofen.

Myers, who also visited the hospital on Dec. 25, died in Regina's emergency room three days after her initial visit. An autopsy later determined she suffered from myocarditis, a treatable viral infection and inflammation of the heart.

"Obviously, a relatively healthy 49-year-old woman wouldn't be expected to go to the emergency room on three separate occasions and then end up dying," said her son, John Myers, 33, of Hastings.

Myers, an airplane custodian for Northwest Airlines, is survived by her husband, two sons, a grandchild, her parents and two sisters. "She was the matriarch of the family," said the family's attorney.

A spokeswoman for Regina referred all questions to hospital CEO Mark Wilson, who could not be reached for comment.

Legal experts say the court system demands a hefty burden of proof for medical malpractice cases in Minnesota. In an effort to limit frivolous lawsuits, plaintiff families are required to hire medical experts to review their case before filing suit. Last year, 147 medical malpractice cases were filed in Minnesota.

"In general, four out of five medical malpractice cases that are tried result in a verdict for the defendant, for the doctors," said Wil Fluegel, president-elect of the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association. For plaintiffs, "it's a real challenge to win either a settlement or a verdict."

On her initial visit to Regina, doctors noted Myers had been sick with flu the previous week and advised her to return if her condition worsened. Feeling too weak to stand, Myers called the Allina Medical Clinic in Hastings at 4:30 p.m. the next day, Christmas Eve. An unidentified clinic employee told her it was probably the flu and she should take Tylenol and drink more fluids.

Myers, feeling desperate, returned to Regina at 7:30 p.m. Christmas Day complaining of weakness and difficulty breathing.

After examining her, emergency room physician Thomas Raymond McNiff again diagnosed her with the flu and advised her to drink more fluids and take painkillers. He wrote in his notes at the time that she was a "melodramatic white middle-aged female" who was not in "respiratory distress," according to the lawsuit.

"That was just my way of saying the objective symptoms did not seem to correspond with her emotional reaction," said McNiff, in a brief interview Wednesday. He was also named as a defendant in the family's lawsuit.

"She had a very unusual disease, and her symptoms were not consistent with that disease. When they brought the suit, they said she died from dehydration," McNiff said. "And she has since been diagnosed as having died from myocarditis. … It's a very rare disease. I don't know that I've ever seen it before."

On Dec. 26, Myers called 911 and was taken by ambulance to Regina, where emergency room staff discovered her blood pressure had dropped and her body temperature had fallen to 93.5 degrees. She died a short time later.

As part of the settlement agreement, the Allina Medical Clinic agreed to pay $50,000 to the family. The rest of the $1 million settlement will be paid by Regina Medical Center.
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