Home > Verdicts and Settlements

$2,500,000 Recovery in Wrongful Death Pheochromocytoma Case

Daryl L. Zaslow of Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP (Edison, Red Bank and Toms River), obtained a $2,500,000 settlement on behalf of the Estate of a 57-year-old man who died from a pheochromocytoma-related cardiac crisis during and immediately following an elective orthopedic shoulder surgery. At the time of his death on April 19, 2012, Plaintiff left surviving a wife and three adult children.

On April 19, 2012 Plaintiff Decedent underwent an elective right shoulder surgical repair of labrum tear under general anesthesia to be administered by the Defendant anesthesiologist. The procedure was performed at a free-standing surgical center. The surgery went smoothly from an orthopedic viewpoint, however, approximately three hours after the surgery began, Mr. Zaslow’s client was dead, succumbing to a pheochromocytoma-related cardiac crisis. A pheochromocytoma is an abnormal mass that secretes inappropriately large quantities of catecholamines, or adrenaline-like cardiac excitatory substances into the circulation. The Plaintiff Decedent’s pheochromocytoma was first diagnosed on autopsy. Although the vast majority of pheochromocytomas are found in the abdomen, they can be found anywhere along a system of primitive residual neuro-endocrine rests running along the spine from the base of the skull (glomus jugular) down to the top of the urinary bladder (organ of Zuckerkandl). If undiagnosed and untreated, they can prove lethal through the mechanism of severe hypertensive crisis, stroke, catecholamine-induced cardiomyopathy, and fatal cardiac rhythm disturbances. The medical literature states that approximately 90% of pheochromocytomas are first diagnosed on autopsy.

Mr. Zaslow and his experts maintained that his client developed wide QRS complex tachycardia before the start of surgery and that the Defendant anesthesiologist deviated from the standard of care when he proceeded with the surgery instead of further investigating the aberrant heart rate. They further maintained that the Defendant’s treatment of this patient’s wide (QRS) complex tachycardia during surgery deviated from the standard of care and that no clear attempt was made by the Defendant to address the wide complex tachycardia with proper medications or determine its etiology. Finally, Mr. Zaslow maintained that the anesthesiologist failed to appreciate the severity of the situation after the surgery was finished and while his patient was decompensating in the PACU. Despite problems with oxygenation and concomitant cyanosis, Plaintiffs maintained that the Defendant delayed in calling for an EMT and chose not to have his patient brought to the nearest hospital.

Mr. Zaslow and his experts contended that had this elective operation been suspended appropriately at the onset of the cardiac crisis, had appropriate medications been given, and had his client been transferred to a tertiary clinical facility in the appropriate time frame with proper stabilization and evaluation, followed by surgical extirpation (and cure) of the pheochromocytoma to a reasonable degree of medical certainty he would have experienced a normal recovery, with safe and successful shoulder repair later, and a normal long-term survival.

The Defendants stressed that approximately 90% of pheochromocytomas are first diagnosed on autopsy and that this statistic supports how difficult it is to diagnose them.

The matter settled for $2.5 million with the $1 million policy limits of the anesthesiologist being paid, the $1 million policy limits of the anesthesiologist’s employer being paid, and $500,000 being paid by the Surgery Center where the surgery was performed.