UPMC MeKeesport Responsible For Medication Error

On Thursday, February 5, 2009, a civil jury in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, awarded a substantial medical negligence verdict in favor of Mary Ellen Pfeifer, age 59, and against UPMC McKeesport Hospital.

In December of 2006, Ms. Pfeifer presented to the emergency room at McKeesport Hospital with symptoms of confusion and difficulty walking. A blood test revealed she had an electrolyte deficiency with critically low sodium. The hospital, through its physicians, intended to slowly correct her low sodium at a rate of 125 cc per hour but due to a medication error, Ms. Pfeifer received 1000 cc in one hour, or eight times what she should’ve received. The result of the rapid infusion of IV sodium was a well known and preventable complication known as central pontine myelinolysis, which is permanent brain damage.

The civil trial began on January 23, 2009 and resulted in a verdict in the total amount of $5,003,000.00 dollars. The jury found UPMC McKeesport to be 100% liable.

Ms. Pfeifer was represented by Attorneys Veronica A. Richards and Sandra S. Neuman of Richards & Richards, LLP, a firm located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both attorneys for the Plaintiff were very impressed with the jury’s ability to focus on the medical issues and to separate facts that were important to determining liability and damages from those that were intended to confuse or bias the jury. Said Ms. Richards “We could not be more pleased with the jury’s verdict. What happened to Ms. Pfeifer was completely preventable. The hospital failed to accept responsibility for Mary Ellen’s current condition. With their verdict, she will be able to stay in her home and receive the medical care she so desperately needs”.

Since the brain injury, Mrs. Pfeifer has not been able to return to work, has impaired thinking slurred speech and a difficult time walking. She requires in-home care, which has been provided by her devoted daughter Melanie from the time she was able to return home after a long recovery period in Southside Hospital and a nursing home.

The attorneys for Ms. Pfeifer were grateful for the verdict. Said Attorney Neuman “It is such a great feeling to be able to help such a deserving person. The fact that Mary Ellen will be able to remain in her home and get the therapy and care she needed was our first priority”.

UPMC McKeesport was represented by Attorneys Marcelle Theis and Andrew Kimball of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote in Pittsburgh.