Mrs. Swink went to Dr. Weintraub to replace her pacemaker. Dr. Weintraub also determined that one of the electrical wires or ‘leads’ connecting the device to the heart had failed. Rather than leave the old lead in place, Dr. Weintraub elected to remove or ‘extract’ the lead. While attempting to perform the lead extraction, Dr. Weintraub encountered considerable scar tissue surrounding the lead. At approximately the same time that Dr. Weintraub discovered the scar tissue, Mrs. Swink’s heart stopped beating, and she ceased breathing. Dr. Weintraub called a ‘code.’
Mrs. Swink was suffering from pericardial bleeding, which is treated by inserting a syringe into the chest to withdraw the blood, a procedure known as “pericardioscentesis.” A pericardioscentesis needs to be performed quickly because brain death begins to occur in as little as four to six minutes. According to the operating room’s event log, there was a 19-minute delay between the time code was called and the time the pericardioscentesis was performed. Evidence was presented at trial that, prior to the code, a pericardioscentesis kit was not in the room.
Several calls were made to obtain a surgeon, but a surgeon did not arrive until almost an hour after the code. Mr. Swink presented evidence that the surgeon and his partners were “right down the hall.” Although the surgeon was able to stabilize Mrs. Swink, she was already brain dead. Her family decided to remove her from life support.
Following a 2-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in Mr. Swink’s favor, finding Dr. Weintraub and his practice negligent and awarded damages in the amount of $1,047,732.20. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the verdict on appeal. With interest, the total amount of the judgment was $1,441,105.40 which was paid in full by the defendants’ insurance company. In addition, the insurance company paid over $72,000 in costs that were incurred to prosecute the claim. The opinion from the Court of Appeals can be found at: Swink v. Weintraub, 672 S.E.2d 53 (2009).
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