Justice for Wrongful Death of South Florida Preacher

The North Broward Hospital District settled a medical malpractice lawsuit after losing its defenses due to discovery violations about the death of a Fort Lauderdale attorney’s father.

The North Broward Hospital District settled a wrongful death lawsuit after a trial judge sanctioned the hospital operator for gross discovery violations by throwing out its defenses during jury selection.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Robert W. Kelley of Kelley Uustal filed suit almost five years ago on behalf of his mother, Mary Kelley, in the death of his father, the Rev. Robert P. Kelley. Terms of the settlement reached Wednesday were confidential.

Kelley’s late father suffered a knee fracture and was discharged from Broward General Medical Center in November 2008. The lawsuit which also alleged medical malpractice claimed he was sent home without a required blood thinner and soon after died from blood clots that caused an embolism.

“North Broward Hospital District failed to disclose material information to the plaintiff regarding this incident. The defendant failed to disclose the results of its internal investigation … and failed to disclose that peer review proceedings were under way with respect to Dr. Matthew Wells and the Broward General Medical Center nursing staff,” Circuit Judge Carlos Rodriguez said Tuesday in an order granting a motion to strike the hospital’s pleadings.

It was not until Rodriguez conducted a two-day evidentiary hearing after starting jury selection a week ago that the documents the hospital had for years denied existed came to light, Kelley said.

Wells, who was accused of being the most responsible of the three physicians sued in Kelley’s death, settled the week before trial confidentially.

Rodriguez noted withholding material information adversely affected the plaintiff’s case because Kelley was preparing for trial under an erroneous theory.

He was given the impression there was a miscommunication between Wells and the nursing staff. It turned out Wells did not order the blood thinner Arixtra be dispensed for Kelley’s father because he was taking aspirin.

Just before Rodriguez threw out the hospital’s case, the public hospital district tried to add Wells and another doctor who settled as Fabre defendants.

In turn, Kelley alleged a conspiracy to avoid liability by shifting blame to Wells after he settled. Had Kelley known the extent of Wells’ potential liability, he said he would not have settled for what he did.

Rodriguez said a conspiracy would be very hard to prove, but the number of alleged mistakes “lead the court to conclude this was no mistake but a willful, intentional attempt to conceal the information constitutionally required and discovery required to be disclosed: compartmentalizing the information in the claim file and quality assurance department, and then not asking those departments for the information is hiding the ball.”

Hospital attorney Jonathan P. Lynn of Chimpoulis, Hunter & Lynn in Davie, said, “The judge’s conclusions seem exceedingly harsh and unfairly critical of hardworking and dedicated employees of the district and the hospital.”

He said there was no evidence the defendants knowingly withheld information, but the sanctions “left us with virtually no alternative but to negotiate a settlement.”

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