Senior Partner, Stephen B. Toner, together with Buffalo Partner, Florina Altshiler, win another swift medical malpractice defense verdict in Queens County, in the case of: Hannah Taboada, as Executrix of the Estate of James Shiffner, Deceased and Cathleen Ann Carter v. Buffalo General Medical Center, Kaleida Health - Gates Vascular Institute, Kaleida Health, Ann B. Curtis, M.D., Hiroko Beck, M.D. and Nestor B. Nestor, M.D. (Index No.: 715031/16).
Our offices represented defendant-cardiologist, Anne B. Curtis, M.D., and electrophysiologist, Hiroko Beck, M.D., in a wrongful death, medical malpractice claim, asserted by the Estate of a 62 year old man who suffered a stroke and died. The decendent, James Shiffner, 62, died on Jan. 2. 2015. He was survived by his wife and a stepdaughter. By the time of trial, all other defendants had been released or discharged from the action. The case was tried over 3 weeks before the Hon. Allen B. Weiss of the Supreme Court.
The decendent, a psychologist practicing the Buffalo area, where the treatment also occurred, had a history of a stroke from 2005, as well as subsequent atrial fibrillation, and had been placed on anticoagulant medications to be taken daily since that time.
On May 11, 2011, he was evaluated by our cardiologist, Dr. Anne Curtis, seeking treatment for his long-standing atrial fibrillation. Dr. Curtis opined that Mr. Shiffner's condition was being effectively managed via his use of prescribed medication: flecainide.
Mr. Shiffner subsequently experienced an episode of atrial fibrillation. In January 2012, he underwent cardioversion, which involved application of an electrical charge that was intended to correct the abnormal electrical charges that were causing his atrial fibrillation's underlying arrhythmia. The procedure was performed by Dr. Curtis. The procedure was repeated in March 2012 when the condition reoccurred.
During the wake of the second cardioversion, Mr. Shiffner and Dr. Curtis discussed the procedure of a “catheter ablation”, in which a heart's faulty electrical pathways are destroyed via application of scarring heat. Dr. Curtis maintained that flecainide was adequately controlling Mr. Shiffner's arrhythmia, so the ablation was not performed. During the ensuing two years, Mr. Shiffner did not experience a significant complication of his condition, so the catheter ablation was put on hold.
In October 2014, Mr. Shiffner again experienced an episode of atrial fibrillation. Dr. Curtis was away at the time, so Mr. Shiffner was referred to Dr. Curtis’ colleague, an electrophysiologist, our other client, Dr. Hiroko Beck. On Oct. 17, 2014, Mr. Shiffner again underwent a cardioversion. After 10 days had passed, Mr. Shiffner experienced another episode of atrial fibrillation. Cardioversion was again repeated, but Mr. Shiffner's atrial fibrillation resumed within two hours.
On Nov. 6, 2014, Mr. Shiffner, his wife and Dr. Beck discussed the catheter ablation alternative. They agreed that the procedure was now an appropriate alternative. It was scheduled to be performed on Jan. 14, 2015. Unfortunately, on Jan. 1, 2015, two weeks before the procedure was to be performed, Mr. Shiffner suffered a stroke. He was transported to Elmhurst Hospital Center, in Queens. He was unconscious and unresponsive. He was then transferred to Mt. Sinai Hospital for more-specialized care, where he subsequently died. Doctors determined that Shiffner's stroke had severely damaged his brain. Shiffner did not regain consciousness before his death.
Mr. Shiffner's stepdaughter, Hannah Taboada, claimed that her father's stroke was a result of a clot that was caused by his atrial fibrillation, and that the doctors unduly delayed in scheduling the catheter ablation, which would have prevented this stroke.
The Estate's counsel contended that Curtis and Beck did not properly address Mr. Shiffner's atrial fibrillation. He contended that flecainide was not effective, and he argued that a different anti-arrhythmic mediation should have been prescribed. The Plaintiff’s counsel also contended that cardioversion was not a successful means of treating the decedent’s atrial fibrillation, and he argued that catheter ablation should have been the first method of treating the condition.
Mr. Toner argued that a catheter ablation is an elective procedure that is intended to comfort patients who suffer atrial fibrillation, but that it does not prevent a stroke or future episodes of atrial fibrillation. Our office also challenged the contention that the procedure was not timely performed after Mr. Shiffner consented to undergo it. Our clients, and our expert witness, asserted that two or three months typically separate the days on which the procedure is scheduled and performed.
Mr. Toner, together with our expert, successfully argued that Mr. Shiffner's stroke may have been a result of Shiffner having failed to consistently utilize an anticoagulant that had been prescribed. Elmhurst Hospital Center's medical records indicated that Mr. Shiffner's wife had recently admitted three instances of her husband having skipped his daily dosage of the medication.
The Plaintiff’s Estate sought recovery of wrongful-death damages that included $2 million for Mr. Shiffner's pain and suffering; and Mr. Shiffner's widow, Cathleen Carter, sought recovery of a total of $1,028,000 for past and future loss of services. Our office made no offers in settlement.
After only 1 hour of deliberations, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of our clients, dismissing all causes of action alleged against Dr. Curtis and Dr. Beck. Oral Post Trial motion to set aside the verdict were denied by Judge Weiss
The Plaintiff’s expert witnesses were Adam Budzikowski M.D.; Cardiac Electrophysiology; Brooklyn; Chad L. Staller M.B.A; Economics; Philadelphia, PA and Warren Wexelman M.D.; Cardiology; Brooklyn, NY. The defense called Stanley J. Schneller M.D.; Cardiology; New York, N.Y.
This swift win comes on the heals of another medical malpractice defense verdict, won by Mr. Toner, a month earlier; that one in Nassau County.
We continue to be pleased that the combination of well qualified, articulate and well prepared medical expert witnesses; together with an uncomplicated and distilled presentation of the critical facts in dispute, together with thoughtful, dispassionate and deliberate jurors, who want to do the right thing, continues to provide success for our clients in the defense of such medical malpractice claims.
Congratulations to Mr. Toner & Ms. Altshiler for this tremendous win!