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Jury Awards $1.5 Million

Mar 23, 2004 | Minot Daily News

A jury has awarded more than $1.5 million to a family that sued Trinity Hospital and two heart doctors for medical malpractice.

Michele Eberle sued Trinity and Dr. Martin Rothberg, a heart surgeon, and Dr. Clarence Pearson, a cardiologist, in the death of her mother, Arlene Morlang, who died April 9, 1998, in Trinity Hospital.

The jury that heard the 8-1/2-day trial deliberated in Northwest District Court in Minot for about two days before reaching the verdict late Friday afternoon.

Trinity spokesman Randy Schwan said an appeal is being considered.

"We are disappointed and we are looking at other options at this point," he said. "We strongly felt and still do, the facts and the expert testimony given at the case supported our position."

Morlang, 67, Minot, had visited Trinity's emergency room on March 28, 1998, where she was seen by Pearson. Rothberg performed single bypass surgery on March 31. Rothberg used a minimally invasive procedure, which the lawsuit claimed he was not experienced in.

The surgery went well, but 12 hours later, Morlang began having complications.

An issue before the jury was whether the connection between the bypass vessel and an artery had leaked and whether the blood found on autopsy in the chest cavity was related to her death or occurred after death.

In court records, Dr. John Smith, who performed the autopsy, determined that the cause of death was acute blood loss, of which the suspect source was the bypass connection.

Trinity physicians testified that diagnostic tests showed no leakage and no unusual accumulation of blood or fluid in the lungs or chest cavity. They stated there was blockage that was treated. They also stated the family's decision to begin paperwork on April 9 to move Morlang to another hospital rather than into intensive care contributed to her death.

The jury determined that Trinity and its doctors were 62.5 percent negligent and the family 37.5 percent negligent. It awarded about $114,210 to Morlang's estate and $800,000 in past and future economic damages and $600,000 in non-economic damages to the family.


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