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No Immunity For You – Virginia Med Mal Case To Go To Trial

A medical malpractice lawsuit has been filed against a West Virginia doctor accused of negligent intubation. Mikiala Whitacre brought a claim against Dr. Robert Thiele on behalf of her step-mother Joy Anne Thomas. The lawsuit is based upon the claim that Dr. Thiele incorrectly intubated Ms. Thomas following her cardiac arrest and that the botched intubation caused a brain injury that ultimately led to her death.

More specifically, the plaintiff claims the intubation tube was not properly placed in Thomas’ trachea, and that Dr. Thiele consciously chose to use a pulse oximeter rather than a more reliable means of evaluating breathing for a patient suffering from cardiac tamponade which is a condition that occurs when fluid fills the outer sac of the heart which dramatically lowers blood pressure and threatens life.

Dr. Thiele has denied knowing of a more reliable way to monitor a patient’s breathing and has stated that the method he used on Joy Anne Thomas was one that helps to ease air through the mouth to the lungs while also serving to prevent fluids from being passed to the lungs.

After being served with the lawsuit, Dr. Thomas, an employee of the University of Virginia Health Center, attempted to receive protection via Virginia’s sovereign immunity laws. In Virginia, the doctrine of sovereign immunity “is `a rule of social policy, which protects the state from burdensome interference with the performance of its governmental functions and preserves its control over state funds, property, and instrumentalities.'” (quoting Hinchey v. Ogden, 307 S.E.2d 891, 894 (Va. 1983)). The immunity afforded by the doctrine is not limited to the state but also applies to people who help run the government. If the person seeking immunity is a physician, a four-part test exists to determine whether a physician who was an employee of the Commonwealth was entitled to the protection of sovereign immunity.

However, the court ruled that at the time of the intubation, the Dr. was employed by both the Physicians Group, which is a non-profit corporation, in addition to being employed within the university’s health center. This finding led to the possibility that a jury could reasonably see the Dr. as having been acting in the capacity as an employee of the Physicians Group and not as a state employee through the university at the time of the event that gave rise to the lawsuit. Such a finding led to a denial of sovereign immunity which, short of a settlement, ensures that the case will go to trial.

The plaintiff is seeking more than $75,000 in damages for pain and suffering. Virginia caps non-economic damages at $2.3 million.

Medical malpractice can have devastating effects that last a lifetime. If you have been injured by a physician’s neglect, attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian will work to get you the full compensation to which you are entitled. Call 800-529-6162 today or contact them online for a free case evaluation. They handle cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

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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