Family's suit claims doctor caused woman's death by misdiagnosing illness Filed on behalf of daughter, 6

June 16, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A malpractice lawsuit filed on behalf of a 6-year-old girl claims that a Columbia physician misdiagnosed her mother's pneumonia, causing the woman's death.

The suit was filed in Howard Circuit Court by the girl's father, Damon Mark James, who is acting as her guardian. It seeks unspecified damages against Dr. Scott Poulton and the Columbia Medical Center, where he was practicing at the time.

Donna James died April 22, 1991, of complications caused by pneumonia, the suit says. Her age was not available.

The James family, of the 6700 block of Old Waterloo Road in Elkridge, asserts in the suit that Dr. Poulton negligently misdiagnosed Ms. James' illness.

"Dr. Poulton had a duty to provide [Ms. James] medical care and treatment that complied with the acceptable medical standards," the suit claims. "[The doctor] breached his duty and committed negligence."

The suit contends that Dr. Poulton was negligent for failing to instruct Ms. James to go to his office or to the hospital for an examination and for failing to order an X-ray that may have detected the pneumonia.

The suit claims the Columbia Medical Center in the 11000 block of Little Patuxent Parkway is liable because Dr. Poulton represented it when he examined Ms. James.

"There is very little merit to the case in our viewpoint," said H. Kenneth Armstrong, a Rockville attorney for Dr. Poulton and the practice. "This whole case boils down to a credibility issue."

Mr. Armstrong asserted that the practice's answering service shows no records that Mr. James called Dr. Poulton when he says he did in the suit.

He added that the doctor's actions were appropriate for treating Ms. James.

Dr. Poulton, who has established a new practice in Catonsville, said he may file a counter-suit against Mr. James.

"The claim being filed from my view is not accurate at all," he said.

Mr. James could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Bernard Cook of Columbia, declined to comment.

Ms. James was taken to the emergency room at Howard County General Hospital for treatment of cold chills and vomiting on April 5, 1991, the suit says.

The hospital staff initially said the woman was suffering from gastroenteritis -- inflammation of the stomach and intestines' lining -- but advised her to make an appointment with her personal physician, the suit says.

Dr. Poulton examined Ms. James at the hospital and again at his office on the next day, the suit says. He made a diagnosis of viral gastroenteritis and instructed the woman to call him if the symptoms continued.

Two days later, Mr. James called Dr. Poulton to report that her condition had worsened and that she was also suffering chest pains and shortness of breath, the suit says.

But Dr. Poulton told Mr. James that his patient had the flu and that she had to allow it to "burn itself out," the suit says. The doctor reportedly did not tell Mr. James to take her to his office or to a hospital for an examination.

Ms. James was taken back to Howard General on April 11, 1991, when the staff diagnosed her as having pneumonia, the suit says. Eleven days later, she died.

The James family requested a jury trial for the case.

The family is asking the jury to award damages in excess of $20,000 for each of the three counts listed in the suit.

The case has been assigned to Judge Dennis Sweeney, but no proceedings have been scheduled.

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