Docs sued over woman’s death
April 10, 2003
A local woman has filed suit against three Aspen Valley Hospital staff members for what she believes was negligence resulting in the death of her mother.
Attorneys representing Aspen resident Mary Ann Smith and her brother, Missouri resident Emery Smith, filed the wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday in Pitkin County District Court. The suit alleges that “medical negligence” by AVH attending physicians and physical therapists resulted in the injury and death of the Smiths’ mother, Aspen resident Doris W. Smith, in May 2001.
Dr. Tomas Pevny, Dr. Gordon Gerson and physical therapist Amy Heaton – along with Heaton’s employer, the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation – have been named as defendants. The suit alleges that the three “provided health care that departed from acceptable standards of health care or safety which proximately resulted in Mrs. Smith’s injuries and death.”
Doris Smith was admitted to Aspen Valley Hospital on the morning of April 18, 2001, in preparation for knee replacement surgery that Pevny performed that afternoon. Two days later, Heaton was asked to visit Smith’s hospital room for a follow-up physical therapy session.
The lawsuit alleges that Heaton did not take proper precautions in restraining Smith during and after the session, even though it was reportedly known Smith suffered from a mental illness.
“Although Mrs. Smith suffered from dementia, Ms. Heaton left Mrs. Smith alone sitting in a chair with a tray table,” court documents state. “Mrs. Smith was not restrained in any way, and there were no physician orders for restraints.”
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The suit alleges that a group of nurses were startled by a strange noise after Heaton left Smith’s hospital room. They entered Smith’s room to find that she had fallen out of the chair, striking her head on a console next to her hospital bed.
The nurses checked Smith immediately after the fall, court documents state, and found “her vital signs were fine and Mrs. Smith was alert.” However, the documents state that Pevny ordered a blood transfusion that evening because of Smith’s low blood count.
On April 23, Smith “indicated that she was feeling ill.”
“Dr. Gerson ordered a CT scan which revealed bleeding in and around her brain and the accumulation of fluids,” documents state. “On April 23, Mrs. Smith was flown by helicopter to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, and surgery was undertaken to drain the blood and fluid accumulating around her brain.”
Three days later, a second CT scan revealed a blood clot putting pressure on Smith’s brain. A second surgery was then performed to remove the clot.
“Mrs. Smith suffered a stroke following that surgery and was placed on life support until April 28, 2001, when her family, with the advice of her physician, decided to remove her from life support,” the suit states. Smith died at 1 a.m. on May 1, 2001.
Smith’s children have filed suit against the hospital for failing to monitor Smith’s condition; against Heaton for leaving Smith alone without the benefit of restraints; and against Pevny and Gerson for failing to order appropriate restraints for Smith, documents state.
“The acts and omission of defendants were the proximate cause of Mrs. Smith’s injuries. Mrs. Smith did not contribute to her injuries in any way, and but for the negligence of the defendants, Mrs. Smith would not have been injured,” the suit states.
Mary Ann and Emery Smith have requested an unspecified amount of damages in the case.
Attorneys for both the plaintiffs and defendants were unavailable for comment.