The state Health Claims Arbitration Panel has ruled Good Samaritan Hospital must pay a 63-year-old Hagerstown widow and her husband's estate $900,000 because the hospital supplied her husband with incompatible blood during a knee operation.
The man died two days later.
The victim, Russell W. Frey, 61, was hospitalized on Feb. 23, 1989. He went to Good Samaritan for a routine visit and to have his medication adjusted for rheumatoid arthritis. During his hospital stay, Mr. Frey developed an infection in his knee prosthesis. Doctors decided to operate on Mr. Frey's knee on May 18, 1989, said Marvin Ellin, the malpractice attorney who represented Mr. Frey's widow, Betty Frey.
"There was no indication he needed hospitalization," Mr. Ellin added.
Mr. Frey's blood type was Kell O-negative. During the operation, Mr. Frey lost a small amount of blood and it was replaced with Kell O-positive blood that had been incorrectly labeled, Mr. Ellin said.
A short time later, Mr. Frey had a reaction to the incorrect blood and his blood pressure and vital signs dropped. Dr. Jeloes Fonda, a cardiologist, ordered the drug esmolal to control Mr. Frey's heart rate. But Mr. Frey suffered a cardiac arrest and irreparable brain damage. He died May 20, 1989, Mr. Ellin said.
An expert witness for the plaintiff, Dr. Angelo Di Silva, chief of the critical care unit at Georgetown University Hospital, said the blood transfusion was unnecessary.
The lawsuit also charged Dr. Fonda with negligence because he prescribed esmolal for Mr. Frey, whose blood pressure dropped during surgery. The anesthesiologist, Dr. Edgardo P. Villamater, also was sued for negligence for allowing the blood transfusion.
The arbitration board determined that Mr. Frey's death was not a result of negligence by the doctors. But the board ruled that the hospital was negligent for supplying the incorrectly labeled blood, Mr. Ellin said.
Mrs. Frey was awarded $550,000 and her husband's estate $350,000.
"It was a very unfortunate case and the hospital admitted it made a mistake in the type of blood the man received," said the hospital's attorney, Michael Baxter.
The award amount issued "seems high," he said, adding the hospital will appeal the award to match the usual $350,000 cap in similar cases.
He said that Good Samaritan had never mistakenly administered the wrong type of blood to a patient prior to this case.
The three-member arbitration panel, consisting of a doctor, lawyer and a lay person, was established by the General Assembly in 1976.