Fort Lauderdale (January 23, 2017) – A Broward County jury in a medical malpractice case last week
awarded $2.85 million to the family of a former Margate police officer
who died in the hospital of a treatable illness physicians failed to fully
diagnose and later treat properly.
Jerry Pettigrossi arrived at Northwest Medical Center with classic symptoms
of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that affects
the body’s autonomic functions and peripheral nervous system. His
condition worsened over the coming days to affect his lower and upper
extremities, eventually leading to respiratory compromise, pulmonary arrest
and loss of oxygen to his brain, resulting in a significant brain injury.
He was placed on life support and died on April 9, 2012.
“Though the condition can be deadly, it is virtually always survivable
if the patient is closely monitored in an ICU setting,” said
Peter Spillis, partner with law firm Kelley/Uustal. Co-counsel on the case was
Bonnie Navin. “He was left to suffocate alone in his room where he was found
Lt. Jerry Pettigrossi retired from 27 years on the Margate police force
and was enjoying retirement with his wife, Ann. On March 21, 2012, Pettigrossi
arrived at the Northwest Medical Center emergency department complaining
of “rubbery legs.”
These were classic signs of Guillain-Barré. Standard of care recommends
such patients be monitored closely. The emergency room doctor ordered
Pettigrossi be admitted and placed on a telemetry floor where he would
get additional monitoring. However, the attending physician covering for
Ajaib Mann, M.D., opted to change that order and place Pettigrossi on
a regular medical floor. Dr. Mann himself didn’t correct the room
Over the next three days, Pettigrossi’s deteriorating condition left
his legs and arms paralyzed and Pettigrossi unable to feed himself or
hold a telephone. Though Pettigrossi's blood pressure and heart rate
remained fairly stable, it is common for patients with Guillain-Barré
to decline quickly. The gold standard of care is to protect their airway.
Around 9 p.m. on March 24, Dr. Mann was notified by the floor nurse that
Pettigrossi's heart rate and blood pressure had risen dramatically
from just a few hours earlier. Dr. Mann ordered a stat consult with a
cardiologist, but never personally came to examine his patient.
Because Pettigrossi was left alone in a standard room, nobody noticed the
progressing paralysis of his core muscles. He was found without a pulse
in his room at 4:30 in the morning.
During the two-week trial in Broward County Circuit Court, Dr. Mann testified
that he did not know back in March 2012 how Guillain-Barré affects
a patient, nor was it the standard of care for him to know. He believed
the consulting neurologist should have been responsible for managing the
patient. Yet, when notified of the patient’s decline the evening
of March 24, Dr. Mann never ordered the nurse to call, nor did he personally
call, the consulting neurologist.
The neurologist testified that if someone had called him with those critical
values he would have immediately directed Pettigrossi to the ICU and Pettigrossi
would not have died.
The defense’s position throughout the trial was that it was the responsibility
of the nurse assigned to the patient to ensure the cardiologist came to
the hospital on a STAT basis. Though the nurse noted three places in Pettigrossi’s
chart that the consult was called out as STAT, the cardiologist recalled
at trial no mention of STAT, also noting his understanding of a STAT consult
was to come to the hospital within four to five hours.
The jury awarded $750,000 in economic damages and $2.1 million for the
family’s pain and suffering, with Dr. Mann 85% at fault and the
nurse 15% at fault.
“This was a complicated medical malpractice case, but the jury listened
closely to the evidence,” said co-counsel Bonnie Navin. “Obviously,
they determined that despite Dr. Mann's desire to not take responsibility
and to blame everything on the nurse, the facts and evidence said otherwise.”
With law offices in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and the Florida Keys,
the law firm of Kelley/Uustal is a leading personal injury practice and
trial law practice serving clients throughout the state of Florida. The
firm has earned significant jury verdicts and legal settlements the areas
of tobacco litigation, automobile accident, workplace injuries, product
liability and health-related cases. For more information, visit
www.JusticeForAll.com or call 954-522-6601.