California Family Pursues Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death, Fraud & Conspiracy Case
Family Pursues Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death, Fraud, Conspiracy Case
A family, seeking to recover for the loss of their loved one, who allegedly died from an untreated complication of a routine surgery, received an unusual favorable ruling when a trial court allowed them to pursue punitive damages in the case. The court determined that, not only did the family raise an issue of wrongful death, but also of fraud and a conspiracy between the surgeon and the hospital to hide the true cause of death.
Hospital May Be Guilty of Fraud and Conspiracy in Wrongful Death
In January 2010, Tyrone Taylor went to the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center to have a herniated cervical disc removed from his neck. After the surgery, a hematoma developed around the surgical site, which obstructed his airway. The hematoma expanded and ultimately asphyxiated Taylor. In a wrongful death civil suit, the Taylor family contended that the hematoma was a routine complication of the surgery, and that Taylor only died because hospital staff failed to tend to the patient and ensure that his airway was clear.
Details of Death Hidden From Family
According to the Taylor family’s civil complaint, Taylor’s wife began inquiring as to how her husband died, but hospital staff told her that the cause of death was undetermined pending autopsy results. Hospital staff allegedly never mentioned the hematoma to the wife at all. The hospital retained the services of an ethically suspect pathologist, who would then file a false autopsy report asserting a natural cause of death, according to the complaint. While Taylor’s neurosurgeon, Donald Ramberg, told the wife that the patient died from fatty liver, Ramberg indicated cardiac arrhythmia and enlarged heart on the patient’s death certificate.
The family contends that in addition to wrongful death, Ramberg and the hospital conspired to fraudulently conceal the true cause of the patient’s death and hide their culpability in that death. The family conceded that, generally, California law does not allow for the recovery of non-economic or punitive damages in cases alleging only wrongful death, but that in light of the doctor and hospital’s conspiracy, fraud and cover-up, the law entitled them to seek punitive damages.
Fraud and Conspiracy Charges are “rare” in Wrongful Death Suits
In what a press release issued by the family’s attorneys described as a “rare” ruling, the San Luis Obispo Superior Court agreed. “Although the jury could conclude that these facts prove nothing other than a series of unfortunate coincidences surrounding a tragedy, it also could conclude that Defendants attempted to cover up the true cause of death, and that Sierra Vista deliberately hired a pathologist who would muddle the causation waters in order to head off a potential lawsuit.” In addition, the court concluded that the family raised triable issues regarding whether Ramberg and the hospital “feigned ignorance” of the patient’s cause of death, why the hospital retained an outside pathologist when a doctor was present when Taylor died, and why the hospital rushed Taylor’s wife to consent to the autopsy.
Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer For a Free Consultation
Sometimes, medical procedures go awry and tragedies occur, through no one’s fault. In many cases, though, such unexpected tragedies are not result of mere back luck, but of medical professionals who fail to do their jobs properly. If you have lost a loved one as a result of what was supposed to be a routine medical procedure, you should consult a wrongful death attorney. Our San Francisco wrongful death attorneys can help you get to the bottom of your case and discover if others owe you for their failure to meet the requirements of a medical professional’s standard of care.
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Boone Callaway is a personal injury & medical malpractice lawyer in San Francisco who has been working with clients in the Bay Area for over 25 years. Mr. Callaway is one of only a few personal injury litigators in San Francisco who is a Super Lawyer, AV Rated and is also a member of ABOTA – American Board of Trial Advocates.