Surgeon, Hospital Pay $1.6 Million For Negligence

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Connecticut Post

December 13, 1997

A prominent Fairfield plastic surgeon, Dr. Joseph O'Connell, and St. Vincent's Medical Center of Bridgeport were ordered to pay for negligently causing the death of a 73-year-old woman. Widower Charles Eventoff was awarded $1.6 million for the 1991 death of his wife, Esther.

During December 1990, while staying at a daughter's house in Trumbull, Esther suffered a heart attack. She was taken to St. Vincent's and was treated with a clot-dissolving drug. Though she recovered from the coronary, the drug caused a severe complication and she developed lesions that resembled third degree burns over 14% of her body. Normal protocol for such a condition would have called for her being transferred to a burn unit, and since St. Vincent's did not have one, she would have been sent to nearby Bridgeport Hospital. But rather than being transferred, Esther was kept on site and treated by Dr. O'Connell.

In the ensuing weeks, her condition rapidly deteriorated. According to Charles Eventoff's attorney, Christopher Bernard, Esther became malnourished because proper nutrients were not provided for her condition. The lesions became worse, and Esther suffered intense pain.

Bernard further disclosed that Dr. O'Connell visited Eventoff only four times during an entire month that she lay in bed. He told the jury how at one point Dr. O'Connell noted "foul-smelling puss emanating from the lesions" but then went on vacation without assigning anyone to her care.

At last the Eventoff family contacted the physician, Dr. Karl Alcan, who originally treated Esther's heart attack. He immediately transferred her to Bridgeport's burn unit. But Esther had lost 40 pounds during her 92-day stay at St. Vincent's, and was so severely malnourished that she soon died.

The trial lasted seven weeks. After two days of deliberations, the jury found St. Vincent's 25% liable and Dr. O'Connell 75% liable.