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Jury Awards $1.2m in Missed Ulcer Lawsuit

A jury has awarded $1.2 million to the family of a girl who allegedly died as a result of a missed diagnosis in 2002.

In the lawsuit, the jury found Drs. W.J. Stoecker and Dr. James D. Meritt equally liable for the death of Ruthie Lacey, according to the attorney for Lacey’s family, David Zevan.

The Malpractice

Lacey died after undergoing emergency surgery for perforated ulcer at Missouri Southern Healthcare on April 7, 2002. The surgery did not come until two days after Lacey first visited Dr. Merrit at the hospital complaining of severe abdominal pain, said Zevan.

When Lacey first saw Merrit, he sent her to Missouri Southern to receive a CT scan, Zevan said. The scan was read by Stoecker remotely from Cape Radiology. Dr. Stoecker failed to notice the ulcer, which was visible in the scan results, said Zevan.

Meritt failed to follow up on the test and sent Lacey home. She returned the next day complaining of severe pain again.

This time, the correct diagnosis was made, and Lacey was taken in for emergency surgery to treat her perforated ulcer.

Perforated ulcers are ulcers that have gone through the stomach wall allowing food and digestive fluids to escape. They typically require immediate surgery.

“Had the proper diagnosis been made and communicated, she had at least an 80 percent chance of survival,” said Zevan. But “because it had gone over 24 hours, there was no chance of saving her.”

The Award

Susan Coleman, Lacey’s daughter, was awarded $0.6 million for past damages, and $0.6 million for future damages, totaling $1.2 million. The damages were mostly for the loss of companionship. The doctors were found equally liable.

“I think it was a fair verdict based on the evidence,” said Zevan. “We did not ask for punitive damages. This was an unfortunate mistake.”

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