If you’ve ever undergone surgery at a Boston hospital, you know how carefully the staff monitors your recovery in the hours or days after an operation. Nurses and surgeons are expected to respond immediately to a worsened condition, signaling problems like surgical complications or infection.

A medical professional is trained to recognize patient abnormalities following surgery and must provide the best possible care. Delayed treatment or the misdiagnosis of a post-surgical condition may be the result of negligence.

The family of a man who died after a cervical discectomy believes the doctors and hospital who cared for the patient conspired to disguise a mistake. The 42-year-old man reported a breathing problem in the middle of the night, several hours after the spinal disk removal.

A nurse reported the patient’s symptoms to the surgeon by phone, who concluded the man was suffering from a sore throat. Within minutes, the nurse called for a rapid response team, who supplied oxygen and an anti-anxiety drug. Thirty minutes after the nurse spoke with the surgeon, the patient registered no pulse.

The emergency room doctor who unsuccessfully tried to revive the man determined a hematoma or blood swelling blocked the patient’s trachea. An initial autopsy determined the death was caused by a fatty liver. The patient’s wife had a second autopsy done, which concluded, as the emergency room doctor did, that a hematoma was the reason for the post-operative patient’s death.

The lawsuit claimed the hospital and doctors conspired to hide the truth. The defendants countered there was no subterfuge – the coroner’s office recommended the company that supplied the pathologist for the first autopsy. The surgeon additionally denied he was given complete information by the nurse.

The plaintiffs have requested punitive damages.

Punitive damages in Massachusetts courts are awarded rarely. A jury must be convinced a physician or hospital’s actions were intentional for a plaintiff to receive the additional compensation.

Source: sanluisbispo.com, “Lawsuit alleges cover-up by Sierra Vista hospital in patient’s death” Patrick S. Pemberton, Jan. 21, 2014