ER Doctor’s Delay in Ordering Cardiac Consult for Patient Suffering Atrial Fibrillation Insufficient Evidence of Malpractice

A patient came to the emergency room of a hospital complaining of wheezing and non-productive cough. The patient was examined and given an EKG, which revealed atrial fibrillation. Lab tests were ordered. When the lab results revealed the patient was suffering from a myocardial infarction (MI), the patient was admitted to the cardiac care unit, where he died eight hours later of an acute MI.


The patient’s daughter and administratrix sued the ER physician for wrongful death, alleging, among other things, the ER doctor’s failure to immediately obtain a cardiac consult after the EKG and to administer nitroglycerine to the patient caused the death.


The defendant moved for summary judgment. The defendant’s expert opined that, as an emergency room physician, the defendant properly prescribed anticoagulants and medications to control the decedent's ventricular rate, that the defendant properly admitted the decedent to a cardiac care unit at the hospital once the lab results became available, and that the defendant’s treatment played no part in causing the decedent's death, which occurred several hours after transfer to the cardiac care service.


In opposition, the plaintiff’s expert opined that the defendant departed from accepted medical practice by not ordering a cardiac consult immediately after the EKG showed atrial fibrillation, instead waiting an hour for the lab results. However, the expert failed to explain how this departure contributed to the patient’s death.


The trial court denied the summary judgment. The appellate division reversed, holding that there was no triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant’s delay in obtaining a cardiac consult proximately caused the death. Further, the defendant’s responsibility for the decedent ended when care was transferred to another attending physician in the cardiac unit.


See: Parrilla v. Buccellato, 2012 WL 1699297 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.  May 15, 2012) (not designated for publication).