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Jury To Rule In A Medical Malpractice Case After A Failure To Diagnose A Bowel Obstruction

Ann Scroggins suffered a heart attack that took her life while undergoing treatment at Athens Regional Hospital under the care of Dr. Daniel Moldoveanu. She was determined to have had a bowel obstruction brought on from the use of opioid pain medication that she was prescribed following knee replacement surgery. Her husband filed a claim for medical malpractice on behalf of Scroggins, who was 72 years of age, against Moldoveanu and Dr. Elizabeth Smith. 

Opioid pain medications are known to bring about bowel dysfunctions, which may include constipation. The claim asserts that both Moldoveanu and Smith had failed to diagnose her condition in the emergency room at the St. Mary’s Medical Center one day before she was admitted to Athens Regional. Scroggins’ lawyer stated that Smith improperly ruled out a bowel obstruction in assessing her painful symptoms and nausea. 

Although Smith had an x-ray conducted, it was done while Scroggins was on her back and did not reveal the presence of any obstruction. Her attorneys suggested that the x-ray had approximately a 50% chance of inaccuracy. Instead, they felt that the image should have been generated while she stood to more accurately view a potential obstruction. Further, if a CT scan had been ordered, the obstruction would likely have been apparent. 

Part of the negligence Smith was alleged to have exhibited was a failure in adhering to differential diagnosis. Moldoveanu’s negligent response in treatment of her complaints of abdominal discomfort and trouble breathing further worsened the situation. He originally had a suspicion that an obstruction existed; however, failed to take proper action in a timely manner. Just prior to her death, he prescribed an oral laxative and an enema, but moments later Scroggins suffered a heart attack.

Plaintiff attorneys claimed that based on her condition, Moldoveanu should have had a nasogastric tube installed to access her stomach and not been allowed to take any oral medications. The defense said the physicians followed accepted practice, yet the patient died due to a rarely seen and unforeseeable circumstance. 

An attorney for Dr. Smith explained that the x-ray did not show any obstruction and thus it must have occurred later. Opioids are an effective means of relieving significant pain, but constipation is a common side effect. The medication tends to slow peristalsis (movement) and tighten intestinal muscles that prevent any opening.

An attorney for Moldoveanu explained to jurors that he had provided a correct diagnosis and began proper treatment prior to Scroggins’ sudden death. The defense insisted that Scoggins did not show major signs of distress until she began vomiting. They said that such as large aspiration was very rare, but it did happen in this instance. The trial is still underway at this time with no apparent indication of a possible settlement.

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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