Doctors Assigned Blame in Jury Award

By Bill Vidonic, Times Staff

Published: Monday, April 14, 2008 9:53 PM EDT BEAVER –

A Beaver County jury Thursday awarded $1.2 million to the estate of an Aliquippa man who died from a pulmonary embolism in 2004.
Patricia A. Kilburn of Moon Township, as administratrix of the estate of her husband, Dennis W. Kilburn, had sued the former Aliquippa Community Hospital; The Medical Center, Beaver; Tri-State Medical Group; Valley Medical Facilities Inc.; and physicians Ganapathi R. Moka, James K. Tatum and Angel Flores.
According to court documents, Dennis Kilburn – who was 35 when he died Nov. 1, 2004 – twisted his right knee in May 2004, and Tatum ordered him to undergo physical therapy from May until July 2004.
The knee problems persisted, according to the lawsuit, and between Oct. 15 and 19, 2004, Kilburn was treated at Aliquippa Community after he complained of abdominal pain and Tatum gave a diagnosis of diverticulitis.
On Oct. 27, Kilburn was back in Aliquippa Community, with chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations. Moka and another doctor diagnosed Kilburn as having panic attacks and released him from the emergency room, the lawsuit said.
On Oct. 29, Tatum ordered Kilburn to be admitted to The Medical Center, Beaver, but, according to the lawsuit, no physician saw him until the following day, though Tatum ordered X-rays, an electrocardiogram and medication.
By Oct. 30, cardiologist Flores diagnosed Kilburn with “unstable angina,” and suspected heart disease, and ordered a catheterization for Nov. 1, the lawsuit said.
Later Oct. 30, tests showed a probability of a pulmonary blood clot, and the catheterization was canceled. The following day, Tatum ordered Kilburn transferred to a Pittsburgh hospital for surgery, but he died Nov. 1.
The jury ruled that Moka and Tatum were negligent, assigning 65 percent of the blame to Tatum and 35 percent to Moka. The jury awarded nearly $665,000 in wrongful-death damages and $600,000 in a survival action, for a total of nearly $1.27 million.
The jury added that Flores wasn’t negligent, so they didn’t award any damages against him. Veronica Richards, an attorney for Kilburn, said Monday that it was agreed in court that if a doctor was found negligent, the respective hospital would be declared negligent as well.
It wasn’t clear in court paperwork whether an appeal would be filed.