Pennsylvania Malpractice Lawsuit Results in $2M Verdict Over X-Ray Delay

An emergency room malpractice lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by the wife of a Philadelphia man who died after doctors failed to diagnose a lethal heart problem, resulted in a verdict of $2.185 million on May 11, 2009.

Rosalyn James, the wife of Zachery James, alleged that her husband’s death might have been prevented if doctors had examined an X-ray taken hours before he died.

The wrongful death malpractice lawsuit targeted St. Joseph’s Hospital in North Philadelphia, as well as two emergency-room physicians.

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Zachery James, then 51, was admitted to the St. Joseph Hospital emergency room after experiencing pains in his legs, back and chest. Shortly after arriving, he was seen by the attending emergency room physician, Dr. Thomas Powell, who ordered X-rays and other tests. However, it took almost two hours for the tests to be completed.

By the time the x-rays were complete, Powell had left to attend a corporate meeting, leaving Dr. Emil Skobeloff as the emergency room physician in his place. In a lapse of hospital procedure, neither Powell nor Skobeloff reviewed the x-rays before they were sent to radiology.

According to an article in the Philadelphia Daily News, the day James was treated in the emergency room was Skobeloff’s first day on the job, and he was supposed to be oriented on hospital procedures by Powell.

The Pennsylvania malpractice lawsuit alleged that the failure to review the x-rays resulted in James’ death later that evening due to a dissecting aortic aneurysm.

Aortic dissection is a tear in the walls of the aorta. The layers between the walls of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, quickly fill up with blood, forcing them apart and putting pressure on the heart. The family alleged that James’ condition could have been identified by a timely review of the x-rays, which were ultimately not examined until the morning after he died.

During the trial, the defense argued that James had a history of hypertension and of not properly taking blood pressure medication. The defense also argued that even timely diagnosis of James’ condition would have not necessarily allowed the hospital to relocate James to a hospital capable of conducting procedures necessary to save his life.

Following a 10-day trial, the jury found that medical neglect caused James’ wrongful death, finding that Powell was 48% responsible, Skobeloff was 36% responsible and St. Joseph’s Hospital was 16% responsible.

According to a 2006 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose cases resulted in the highest number of lawsuits leading to plaintiff awards.


  • IKEMay 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Interesting in that one of the doctors in harm's way as a result of this tragedy was on his FIRST DAY on the job. I would assume that he was not properly prepared, in terms of his legal and financial planning and that his advsiors, if he had any, told him that Asset Protection planning was not necessary for him yet.

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