Caddo Parish Jury Finds Doctors Not Liable in Medical Malpractice Case; Verdict Upheld

The plaintiffs in this case are the family of Cody Ebarb, a 12-year-old boy who suffered a stroke and subsequently died after receiving care from various doctors at Willis Knighton Medical Center in Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana. Cody suffered from several pre-existing medical problems, including a viral chronic fatigue syndrome, suspected disease of the connective tissue, and herpes virus of the eye. He had spent much time in medical treatment and was, sadly, a very sick child for much of his life.

On the morning of November 5, while on his way to the pediatrician, Cody suddenly said that he couldn’t see and fell to the floor, moaning. He was transported by EMTs to Willis-Knighton South, and they noted only that he was having seizures. It turned out that he had actually had a stroke due to a small tear in his basilar artery (which is surrounded by the spine).

Dr. Felty, an emergency room physician, performed a basic emergency exam and ran a batter of standard tests. He did not perform a full neurological exam because Cody could not communicate and was moving involuntarily. He also did not order an MRI because subspecialists, not ER physicians, normally do so. While at the hospital, Cody could not open his eyes or speak, but at some point was aware of his surroundings. Eventually, at approximately 2 pm, a pediatrician arrived, ordered Ativan (a widely used sedative and anticonvulsant) and left. Between the hours of 2 pm and 6:30 pm, several doctors examined Cody, who by then had deteriorated and was unable to move his arms or communicate. He was then transferred into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). During his night in the ICU, Cody went into cardiac arrest and was placed on life support. While on life support, an MRI was taken that showed a very rare torn basilar artery, which resulted in a stroke.

A medical review panel unanimously found that the doctors did not breach the standard of care due to t he complicated nature of the case.

A medical malpractice case is not about hindsight, asking if there was anything the doctors could possibly have done to save someone’s life. Rather, it is about determining whether Cody’s doctors breached the standard of care that doctors are required to abide by. In order to prove that the doctors in this case were medically negligent, the plaintiffs had to prove: 1) a duty of care owed by the health care provider to Cody; 2) breach of that duty by failure to abide by the appropriate standard of care; 3) a causal connection between the breach and the patient’s injury or death; and 4) damages.

It is clear that the doctors owed a duty of care to Cody, who was their patient. At trial, the plaintiffs’ expert and the defense expert strongly disagreed about what the standard of care was and whether the doctors had breached it. The plaintiffs’ experts thought that Dr. Felty should have ordered an MRI right away, which might have shown the torn artery. They also strongly criticized the doctors for keeping incomplete charts. Torn basilar arteries are not always fatal, but do have a high mortality rate. On the other hand, the defense expert testified that by the time Cody arrived in the ER, it was already too late. She also testified that ER doctors do not normally order MRIs and in any event it would have been difficult with an involuntarily moving child. Another defense expert thought that even an early MRI could not have saved Cody.

The jury found that the doctors did not cause Cody’s death. Additionally, causation was difficult for the plaintiffs to prove because no autopsy was performed.

The court noted that the lack of documentation and the fact that Cody lay in the emergency room for four hours even after he had been ordered to be transferred to the ICU were cause for concern, but the jury appeared to have accepted the doctors’ trial testimony and a court is not allowed to re-weigh credibility. Therefore, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana upheld the jury verdict.

If you believe that you have been the victim of medical malpractice, call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help you decide whether to pursue your case.