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Jury In Medical Malpractice Case Awards $10 Million In Case Involving Secondary Drowning

Joanne and Mitchell Pellock brought a medical malpractice case against Mississippi Valley Anesthesiology, P.C. and were awarded $10 in damages from a jury. The defendants had refused any settlement offer leading up to the trial that involved the death of Richard Pellock, an 80-year-old husband, and father in Dubuque, Iowa.

Pellock had metastatic cancer and underwent surgery at UnityPoint Health’s Finley Hospital to extract his bladder; however, the procedure had complications that led to a bowel leakage and sepsis. Metastatic cancer, also known as stage four cancer, is where cancer cells expand (spread) to other parts of the body through metastasis. The conditions could likely have been corrected with an additional procedure. Joanne Pellock, his wife of over 50 years, is struggling to get over the unfortunate incident.

Prior to beginning the next surgery, when anesthesia was administered, Pellock vomited and the contents of his stomach traveled to his lungs causing secondary drowning. The nurse anesthetist demonstrated a failure to clear the patient’s airway that led to his death, which caused a terribly unexpected outcome. Contrary to proper procedure, Pellock had eaten just one hour prior. The plaintiff attorney explained that they were negligent in not removing the food from his stomach and then again by taking too much time to insert a breathing tube to prevent the vomit from reaching the lungs. Mrs. Pellock explained how she was stunned when the doctor told her about the bad news, and that he mentioned specifically that the process of opening up his airway simply took too long.

A lawyer for the plaintiff explained that he was very proud to have obtained justice for his grieving family. The jury partially based their award on what was estimated to be a seven-year remaining life expectancy. The case was one where an 80-year-old nearly beat cancer. The defense was unwilling to negotiate a settlement because they felt that the outcome was based on inherent risks of this type of surgery. These defense’s witnesses who testified were unable to persuade the jury. Iowa does not have a requirement that the parties enter mediation, although alternative dispute resolution could have been an option if both parties had chosen to participate.

Attorneys for the plaintiff stated that the jury award was fair based on a fatal outcome. He expects the defense to appeal the case, which he says is part of a “delay and appeal” process that has unfortunately become quite common. The insurer for Mississippi Valley Anesthesiology P.C. will be liable to pay the award. They issued a statement saying that they disagreed with the jury’s verdict, yet still have faith in the process. Further, they explained that patient safety is a critical goal and that they intend to continue providing excellent care.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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