Doctors Prevail in Med Mal Trial Over Patient's Ectopic Pregnancy

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Nov 15, 2019 2:08:50 PM


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Tampa, FL— Jurors Thursday evening cleared a trio of doctors at trial over an ectopic pregnancy that left a woman unable to naturally conceive. Santangelo-Santana v. Exodus Women’s Center, Inc., et al., 2015CA001646. 

Jurors in Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit, in Hillsborough County, deliberated about three hours before finding Exodus Women’s Center physicians, Drs. Dawn Ericsson and Stephen Wagner, and Dr. Robert Ruffalo, a pathologist at Brandon Regional Hospital, were not responsible for a nearly month-long delay in surgery to end Stacey Santangelo-Santana’s ectopic pregnancy.  

Her ectopic pregnancy, a non-viable pregnancy outside the uterus, required the removal of Santangelo-Santana’s right fallopian tube. Because she had lost her left fallopian tube in an earlier ectopic pregnancy, the 2014 incident left her unable to naturally conceive. 

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Santangelo-Santana contends Ruffalo failed to properly contact obstetricians Ericsson and Wagner to alert them of results showing a likely ectopic pregnancy, while the two obstetricians failed to follow up to get the test results in time to save her fallopian tube. 

During Wednesday’s closings, Santangelo-Santana’s attorney, Searcy Denney’s Donald Ward, requested about $646,000 in damages, including medical expenses and pain and suffering. 

The seven-day trial turned on expectations regarding communication and follow-up of medical test results. During Thursday’s closings, Santangelo-Santana’s attorney, Searcey Denney’s Donald Ward, argued testimony showed Ruffalo breached the standard of care when he failed to call Ericsson about the ectopic pregnancy. Meanwhile, he said, the Exodus physicians did not reach out to check on the results, where a grave complication was possible. 

“All that was required for Stacey Santana not to be here today was the click of a computer mouse, a phone call,” Ward Said, “or a doctor making the effort to get the pathology report before Stacey Santana left his office.”

But Exodus’s attorney, LaCava & Jacobson’s Louis LaCava, argued that the physicians acted appropriately. He pointed to evidence he said showed Ericsson, as the surgeon on the procedure, reasonably expected the follow-up surgeon to review the pathology results, while Wagner expected anything significant would be conveyed to him. 

And Ruffalo’s attorney, Hill Ward Henderson’s Ethen Shapiro, told jurors that the pathology report was complete, correct, and that Ruffalo entered the test results into the medical electronic record system so that Ericsson, Wagner, or any other physician could review it. On Thursday, Ruffalo walked jurors through evidence he said showed Ruffalo's compliance with the record-keeping and communication system. And he said evidence showed Exodus personnel had downloaded the report. “When [Ruffalo] electronically signs [the report],” Shapiro said, “he has a reasonable expectation that the system is going to deliver.”

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Related Information

Stacey Santangelo-Santana is represented by Searcy-Denney’s Edward Ricci and Donald Ward.  

Exodus Women’s Center Inc. is represented by LaCava & Jacobson’s Louis LaCava. 

Dr. Robert Ruffalo is represented by Hill Ward Henderson’s Ethen Shapiro. 

Brandon Regional Hospital is represented by Banker Lopez Gassler’s Tracy Falkowitz.  

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Topics: Medical Malpractice, Florida, healthcare, Santana v. Exodus Women's Health, et al.