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Wrongful death - Family practitioner fails to diagnose bacterial pneumonia when patient presents with pulmonary and other symptoms - Misdiagnosis of viral infection permits condition to progress to streptococcal pneumonia and, ultimately, death.

Orange County, California

The estate of the male decedent, who was in his late 30’s when he died of undiagnosed bacterial pneumonia, brought this death action to recover damages for the negligence of the medical practitioners who failed to provide the decedent with proper care during the time period in question. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendants family physician and HMO, claiming liability for negligent failure to timely and properly diagnose and treat bacterial pneumonia when the decedent presented with symptoms mandating specific diagnostic testing.

On December 21, ________, the decedent initially presented to the defendant’s emergency room facility in Fontana, California, complaining of difficulty breathing, general feelings of illness, etc. During this initial visit, only a nurse, who determined that the decedent’s symptoms were not indicative of an emergent condition, examined the decedent. The decedent was instructed to proceed to the family practice clinic of the HMO facility where he was seen by a family practitioner later that same afternoon. The family practitioner performed a clinical examination, on the basis of which the defendant family physician diagnosed the decedent as suffering from a viral respiratory ailment. The physician did not prescribe antibiotics or order further testing.

The decedent’s condition continued to worsen for several days until, on December 24, ________, the decedent was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with streptococcal pneumonia. The decedent expired several days later. The plaintiff’s experts maintained that the defendant family practitioner deviated from the standard of care in failing to perform a thorough clinical exam and in failing to order blood work and a chest x-ray, which would have lead to the diagnosis of a bacterial infection that required antibiotics.

The plaintiff contended that had appropriate antibiotics been timely ordered and administered, the decedent’s condition could have been reversed before proving fatal. The plaintiff sought wrongful death damages, including loss of companionship and future loss of earnings in excess of $________.

The defendants denied negligence and maintained that the examination performed fully comported with the standard of care. The defendant family practitioner testified that the decedent’s condition appeared to be resolving, further supporting the diagnosis of viral illness.

The defendants made no offer of settlement at any time prior to trial.

The jury found for the defendant.

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