Family Sues Hospital, Claiming Doctor's Misdiagnosis Resulted in Death of Child

The parents of a six-year-old boy who died after receiving treatment in an emergency room have filed suit for medical malpractice and wrongful death against the hospital, the treating physician, and the physician’s employer. The child was reportedly taken to the emergency room for a playground injury. He was discharged with a diagnosis of constipation and died several hours later. The lawsuit claims that the treating physician breached the standard of care by misdiagnosing the child’s condition and, as a result, administering an inadequate treatment. The hospital is liable, according to the lawsuit, in its capacity as the employer of the nursing staff that also failed to provide adequate treatment. The family is seeking actual and punitive damages.

The child suffered a blunt-force trauma injury to his back on May 8, 2013, when he fell and landed on a pole in the playground, according to the plaintiff’s complaint. He was taken to the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas (CMCD) in Dallas, Texas that evening, where he was seen by Abbie Leigh Smith, M.D. The child complained of back and abdominal pain in the left upper quadrant. The triage nurse reportedly noted that he was “pale and writhing in pain.” The doctor examined the child, and made a differential diagnosis “concerning for the possibility of internal injury vs constipation vs gas vs developing viral illness.”

A KUB (kidneys, ureters, and bladder) x-ray ordered by the doctor showed, in the doctor’s own words as quoted by the plaintiffs, that the child “was full of poop.” Nurses administered medication for pain and nausea, as well as one or more enemas to induce several bowel movements. The child was discharged with a diagnosis of constipation, a prescription for laxatives, and instructions to see his pediatrician in two days. Approximately four hours after his discharge, the child went into cardiac arrest and died. An autopsy reportedly revealed an abrasion on the left lateral chest wall, a lacerated left kidney with hemorrhage, and hemorrhages in the small intestine, pancreas, stomach, right kidney, and abdomen.

The lawsuit, filed in Dallas County Court on February 24, 2014, alleges multiple instances of “willful and wanton negligence” against Dr. Smith. These included misuse of an enema, which allegedly masked the child’s trauma symptoms and delayed a correct diagnosis, and misuse of a KUB x-ray, which failed to detect the child’s trauma, instead of more standard imaging.

The complaint further alleges that several members of CMCD’s nursing staff, including the triage nurse, failed to “appreciate the significant mechanism” of the child’s injury, failed to perform a serial examination, and misused the KUB x-ray and enemas in diagnosing and treating the child. The plaintiffs claim that Dr. Smith’s employer, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is vicariously liable for her alleged acts of negligence. The complaint does not include a specific damage amount, but it states that total damages exceed $1 million. Since they allege that the doctor’s negligence was willful and wanton, the plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages.

Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt’s medical malpractice attorneys have represented Maryland patients and their families for more than 20 years. We help people recover damages for injuries caused by incorrect diagnoses, surgical errors, pharmacy errors, and other acts of negligence by medical professionals. We are available 24/7 and can visit you in your home or at the hospital.

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