Pennsylvania families receive compensation in two ways when a civil court decides that a defendant's carelessness contributed to a person's death. Wrongful death claims address losses experienced by relatives. Separate survival actions concentrate solely on the harm inflicted upon a victim.
An Allegheny County
case was resolved after two trials and an appeal, nearly a decade after the 2003 death of a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) patient.
A Murraysville accountant was admitted to a UPMC facility for surgery after the discovery of a brain mass. The night before surgery, a nurse detected a disturbing symptom. The 24-year-old patient's eye had become "fixed and dilated," an indicator of dangerous brain pressure.
The man's neurosurgeon was contacted, but no special treatment was ordered. The physician did not come to the hospital. The nurse apparently did not alert anyone else to the patient's potential life-threatening condition. Emergency procedures eventually were performed but, by then, the patient was dependent on life support. He later died.
A wrongful death action ended with a $2.5 million damage award. A second trial was scheduled to assess damages for a survival action that resulted in a $10 million jury award in November 2011.
UPMC filed post-trial motions that a judge called a "thinly veiled attempt" to delay payment. The judge also reprimanded attorneys for flip-flopping. In the first trial, the hospital asserted that the patient might have survived with a less rapidly deteriorating condition. In the second trial, lawyers stated that the patient's condition was too far gone by the time a nurse noticed something wrong to save him.
A superior court upheld the earlier rulings. With litigation delays and interest, damages rose to more than $14 million.
Survival actions are filed on a decedent's behalf for the victim's suffering before death and financial losses. Damages are based on what the victim might have received had he lived to bring a negligence lawsuit.
Court upholds $14.2 million judgment against UPMC
" Robert Zullo, Nov. 04, 2013