The families of two women who fell into irreversible comas during childbirth two years apart agreed to settle their medical malpractice claims for $13.2 million and a substantial confidential settlement.
Mia House checked into Norwalk Hospital to deliver her first child, but fell into an irreversible coma when anesthesiologist Jay Angeluzzi failed to notice when her brain wasn’t receiving enough oxygen. Investigators found that Angeluzzi had disconnected the electronic alarms meant to warn of such a problem, and he also could not account for the powerful narcotics he signed for before the procedure.
Tragically, Mia House’s injuries could have been prevented. Two years earlier, Herman Cole begged the state to revoke Angeluzzi’s medical license or at least require him to practice under close supervision after a similar set of circumstances, including a disconnected monitor and missing narcotics, put his wife, Sadie Cole, into an irreversible coma at the same hospital.
Knowing that the state Department of Public Health has a reputation for ruling on the side of physicians accused of incompetence (900 complaints were investigated over a five-year period, but only two licenses were revoked by the department) Cole and his attorneys from Silver Golub & Teitell LLP gave state investigators hundreds of documents that proved Angeluzzi was a threat to patients:
Somehow, Connecticut health department officials were not convinced by this information. The agency submits complaints against doctors to other physicians in the same specialty to determine whether there is a breach of the standard of care. If they determine that a doctor did something wrong, charges are likely to be filed and the case will be sent to the examining board. If not, the case is generally dropped.
“Who did they ask? You don’t need anyone so well qualified for this case,” said Cole’s attorney, Richard A. Silver, Senior Partner of Silver Golub & Teitell, who handled the case along with SGT Partners Ernie Teitell and Peter M. Dreyer. “A 12-year-old could tell you not to unhook the monitors.”
Some 13 months after Cole filed his complaint, he received a two-line note from a health department nurse informing him that the case had been closed and no action would be taken. With that, the file was sealed. Under state law, if an investigation of a doctor is closed in 18 months or less and does not lead to some form of action against the doctor’s license, the file is sealed and officials cannot even acknowledge that it exists. None of the other health care professionals licensed by the state, such as dentists and nurses, benefit from such secrecy provisions. If anyone inquired about Angeluzzi’s background, none of the troubling evidence of the Cole case would be divulged.
“I was so angry,” Attorney Silver added. “I thought it was a leadership problem at the top of the health department. The health department’s inaction after the Cole investigation was incomprehensible, leaving another brain-damaged woman from the same physician in the same circumstances.”
The lawsuit filed by the House family claimed that Angeluzzi did not warn the obstetrician that House’s blood oxygen level was falling dangerously low, despite the use of an electronic pulse oximeter, which measures the oxygen content of the blood. Emergency resuscitation measures began only after the obstetrician noted that both House and her baby were turning blue.
A list of charges drafted by the state health department after the House case accused Angeluzzi of disconnecting the monitor’s alarms and failing to account for excess morphine that records show had not been given to the patient. Angeluzzi said the extra narcotics were poured down the drain, but he did not get anyone to witness the disposal, which is required. The charges also alleged that Angeluzzi failed to get signatures from the required witnesses on two other occasions when he disposed of excess narcotics. In addition, it accused him of falsifying House’s medical records by writing down inaccurate values for her vital signs.
Those charges were never filed. Instead of contesting the health department’s case and submitting to a public hearing before the medical board, Angeluzzi agreed to surrender his Connecticut medical license a year after the department dropped the Cole investigation, but not before Mia House delivered the baby girl she will never meet.
Angeluzzi and Norwalk Hospital, which attempted to sue Herman Cole for the millions of dollars in treatment his wife required after her brain injury, eventually agreed to pay $13.2 million to settle his malpractice claim. Shirley Holley and Caleb House reached a substantial confidential settlement of their claim as well.
In the aftermath of the Cole and Holley cases, Silver Golub & Teitell’s attorneys pushed for, and obtained, substantial changes to the Department of Public in Health and the manner that complaints are investigated. The Cole and Holley families and their attorneys hope that these changes may prevent patients from being injured by incompetent physicians in the future.
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