Pittsburgh hospital must pay $14.2 million malpractice award

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- A Pittsburgh hospital will have to pay nearly $14.2 million to resolve a medical malpractice case it has now lost twice, judges said.

A panel of judges upheld the judgment Monday after nearly a decade of litigation involving UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh and the estate a patient who died of a brain condition.


Michael Rettger, a 24-year-old accountant from Murrysville, Pa., was brought to Shadyside on Nov. 15, 2003, after doctors at another hospital found a large brain tumor or abscess that required surgery.

Rettger was scheduled for surgery four days later but his condition worsened the night prior and he was placed on life support. A nurse noticed Rettger's pupils were fixed and dilated, indicating the brain pressure from the growth was worsening, requiring emergency treatment. She called Rettger's neurosurgeon, Dr. Eugene Bonaroti, about 1 a.m. to report the development. Bonaroti neither came to the hospital nor ordered emergency treatment. Rettger died the following day.

An initial trial awarded Rettger's estate $2.5 million but the judge did not permit jurors to consider Rettger's future earnings into their damage amount. When the family appealed that decision a new trial was ordered and jurors were permitted to consider the amount of money Rettger would have earned had he received the proper treatment overnight prior to his surgery. With that in mind, jurors handed down a $10 million damage award in November 2011, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. That amount ballooned to $13 million after the hospital filed post-trial motions to further delay payment.


A judge admonished the hospital's legal team for reversing its arguments in the second trial to lessen the potential impact of a financial award. In the first trial, the hospital argued it provided quality care that, had his condition not worsened so quickly, Rettger would have survived and recovered. At the second trial -- with his future earnings at stake -- lawyers argued Rettger's condition was so grave when nurses noted the dilated pupils he had already suffered brain damage and would never have been able to return to his accounting practice.

Judge Mary Ann Bowes said the hospital's legal strategy during the second trial was a "thinly veiled attempt to relitigate liability."

"I submit that the hospital, having espoused at the first trial that Mr. Rettger was neurologically intact at 1 a.m. and having offered expert testimony in support of that proposition, is bound by that admission," she wrote.

With interest, the amount now stands at $14.2 million, the Post-Gazette said. It's believed to be the largest medical malpractice award in Allegheny County in 13 years.

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