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Radiologist Who Failed to Properly Examine CT Scan Pays Millions for Resulting Harms and Losses

February 12, 2020

How long does it take you to scan through 50 pictures on Facebook? Two minutes? What about nearly 700 pictures? Bet that would take a bit more time.

But a Florida radiologist claimed he carefully looked through 691 radiology images in less than  seven minutes. Granted he wasn’t looking at old high school classmates or adorable puppies, but he still should have taken more time to review an important CT scan of a patient. As a result, a man died, and his wife received a $2 million settlement because the radiologist didn’t properly review the CT (computed tomography) scan.

 Background

Sixty-four year-old Leonard Burstein was tying his shoes in January 2015 when he lost his balance. Leonard hit his head on a filing cabinet, and his head started to bleed. Leonard was on the blood-thinning medication Coumadin for a heart condition, so he was at a higher risk for a brain hemorrhage because of excess bleeding.

His wife, Georgie, called paramedics, who took him to West Boca Medical Center, where the emergency room doctor ordered a CT scan. The scan included hundreds of 3D images of his brain in tiny increments from top to bottom and back to front.

The CT scan images were sent for careful study to a radiologist, who was at another location of the hospital system. The images included brain and neck CT scans of Leonard, as well as a head CT scan from several years earlier when Leonard was seen for migraines. The images came with written instructions that Leonard was on Coumadin, so the radiologist knew he should look for signs of a brain hemorrhage.

Leonard’s wife contended the radiologist hurried through the images and wrote a report that Leonard didn’t have any bleeding inside his brain. Based on the radiologist’s “normal” findings, the ER staff discharged him less than 90 minutes after arrival.

When Leonard returned to his home, his health deteriorated. Mrs. Burstein again dialed 911 for an ambulance when her husband became shaky and weak, and slumped on the floor. The same paramedics returned to the Burstein’s—surprised to be back again at the same address. The EMTs quickly saw Leonard was ill and transported him to a different hospital.

At the ER, Leonard began vomiting and eventually lost consciousness. After another head CT scan, a different radiologist discovered he had massive internal bleeding in his brain. But there was no time to save him.

Leonard died the next day. The Bursteins were married 38 years.

Mrs. Burstein’s Lawsuit

Leonard’s widow brought a wrongful death action April 2017, alleging the radiologist spent just a few seconds reviewing her husband’s head CT scans. As a result, he missed the bleeding in Leonard’s brain that caused his eventual death.

The lawsuit accused the hospital, the radiologist, and his employer of negligence and vicarious liability.

The patient’s attorney remarked that he wasn’t a radiologist but he could clearly see on dozens of the CT images bleeding inside Leonard’s brain. “It’s not subtle,” the attorney said. The CT scans showed the area inside his brain where it was bleeding to be directly below the area where Leonard hit his head.

Medical experts said that if the radiologist had seen and reported the brain bleed, the ER doctors could have treated it successfully in minutes.

The radiologist insisted he viewed each image twice.

The hospital and the radiologist denied any wrongdoing and claimed that Leonard’s own negligence contributed to his death. They also said Mrs. Burstein filed the lawsuit beyond the statute of limitations.

The Investigation

The case turned on evidence the patient’s attorneys obtained from the head of radiology department at the hospital. They subpoenaed the doctor to print out a record of each keystroke the radiologist made on his computer the day he looked at Leonard’s CT images—including from the time he opened the email with information about the patient. This evidence was critical in the settlement.

If the radiologist just opened and began reading the scans, he spent no more than half a second looking at each image— two images per second. That’s darn quick!

The case settled just few days before trial.

Doctor Mistakes Happen

Medical malpractice cases occur all over the country­—including in Michigan—where doctors make errors in their diagnoses of patients. Radiologists, like many other healthcare professionals, feel pressured to work as quickly as they can. This means more mistakes and more avoidable injuries and deaths.

Emergency medicine is a highly competitive business, and ERs advertise their speed and efficiency. No one wants to wait four hours to be seen by a doctor, so hospital’s brag how quickly they get patients in and out. In fact, some ERs rent billboards to show the real time wait for their medical services (like a bank’s time and temperature display).

With pressure to move quickly, there can be problems—like the death of Leonard—because ER doctors and other physicians rely on the CT results and don’t read the films themselves.

Mrs. Burstein accepted a $500,000 offer from the radiology company and a $1.5 million offer from the hospital and avoided further litigation and trial. Without her husband’s retirement money, she would be forced to work two jobs.

Takeaway

Doctors can be in a hurry like the rest of us, but haste in medical care can cost lives. In some instances, doctors or healthcare providers can be sloppy, lazy, or not have the proper skills to do the job at hand. Like this Florida radiologist, a misdiagnosis or the failure to diagnose a medical problem is medical malpractice. Plaintiffs must show that if the doctor had diagnosed  correctly, the patient wouldn’t have suffered injury or death.

At Buchanan Firm, our combined legal-medical team has decades of successful experience handling medical malpractice cases, including cases involving missed and incorrect medical diagnoses.

Our medical professionals at the law firm can speak to you immediately and review your claim. Our team quickly and efficiently assesses the medical facts and takes immediate action to protect your legal rights.

Please contact us today.