Fortner v. Heart Hospital Baylor Plano - A Plaintiff's Verdict

Medical Malpractice
Medical Malpractice Verdict
Plaintiff Verdict

This case was submitted for publication by attorney Robert L. Chaiken who, along with Kenneth B. Chaiken and Carrie P. Kitner of Chaiken & Chaiken as well as Jeffrey S. Levinger, of Levinger, P.C., represented the plaintiffs. The case was presided over by Judge Staci Williams in the 101st Judicial District Court, Dallas County, Texas. The trial occurred between June 20, 2016 and July 1, 2016.

The Facts

On July 15, 2008, Ronald Fortner (plaintiff) had open heart surgery at Heart Hospital Baylor Plano, located in Plano, Texas. At first, Fortner appeared to be fine and the surgery appeared to have been successful. Then, Fortner started to lose his vision about a day after his surgery. The vision loss began in his right eye and progressed to his left. Within two days after surgery, Fortner was completely blind. 

In their lawsuit, Ronald and Pam Fortner claimed that nurses failed to accurately report Ronald Fortner's condition to the critical care doctors. Critical care doctors, Drs. Taylor and Erwin, and the hospital (defendants), allegedly failed to order an ophthalmology consult and take appropriate medical action on a timely basis. The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano did not have an ophthalmologist on staff, and a credentialled ophthalmologist needed to see Fortner.

The defendant doctors on staff believed that Fortner’s blindness was a result of medication, anesthesia, or possibly a brain stroke. However, all of the tests ordered by the doctors showed no evidence of a brain stroke. Ronald Fortner had already gone permanently and irreversibly blind by the time he received an ophthalmologist consult. Fortner had suffered an anterior ischemic stroke of the optic nerve (AION), which had caused his blindness. An AION can be caused by a combination of blood loss, anemia, and low blood pressure.

According to Dr. Sadun, the expert used by Fortner, if Fortner’s condition had been addressed in a timely manner, his blindness could have been prevented and the vision loss might have been reversed. The ophthalmologist that eventually consulted with Fortner ordered the same therapy that Dr. Sadun called for.

The Verdict

After one day of deliberations, the eleven member jury unanimously found Heart Hospital Baylor Plano to be 95 percent liable and found Dr. Erwin to be five percent liable. Dr. Taylor was found not liable.

The jury awarded plaintiffs $6,844,543 including specific awards for past and future mental pain and anguish, past and future lost earning capacity, future nursing care expenses, past and future care and assistance expenses as well as damages for loss of consortium. The non-economic damage caps stated in Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code may reduce non-economic damages awarded to plaintiffs from $1.7 million to $335,000.

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