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| Saunders and Walker

A failure to diagnose and treat pneumonia caused a softball-sized hole in a lung and the death of a Rhode Island woman.

The ER doctor missed the signs of bacterial infection and sent the patient home without any treatment.

Family awarded $21.5 million in malpractice case

PROVIDENCE — A jury on Tuesday awarded $21.5 million to the family of a Newport woman, concluding that the 34-year-old mother of three died after receiving negligent care from an emergency room doctor.

The award stems from the March 1999 death of Mary O’Sullivan, an Irish immigrant who went to Newport Hospital three times in four days with flu-like symptoms and ended up dying of complications from streptococcus pneumonia, Decof said.

The lawsuit claimed that Dr. Charles L. Stengel, who saw her on the second visit, failed to recognize and react to signs of bacterial infection and sent O’Sullivan home without antibiotics, telling her to see another doctor in five days. In less than two days, O’Sullivan was back in the hospital, where another doctor immediately recognized she had pneumonia and severe sepsis, Decof said.

Toxins from the bacterial infection were eating away at her lung tissue and she ended up with a “hole in her lung the size of a softball,” Decof said. She died on March 1, 1999, 3½ weeks after her first visit to Newport Hospital. Decof said that if Stengel had admitted O’Sullivan to the hospital and given her antibiotics, she would have made a full recovery within three to five days.

Florida law creates obstacles to claims arising in emergency rooms and places caps on damages. It is unlikely that a Florida victim’s family would be able to receive such a sizeable verdict in the situation briefly outlined in this article. However, those of us who represent victims of medical malpractice work hard to maximize the recoveries despite the continuing efforts of the Florida legislature to protect the medical community.

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