Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP attorneys Lauren Pennisi and Jason Rubin recently obtained a $1,100,000 settlement in a medical malpractice case concerning the failure to timely identify the signs and symptoms of sepsis in a 48-year-old smoker who was taking immunosuppressants for an underlying rheumatological condition.

The plaintiff was under the care of the defendant-rheumatologist for rheumatoid arthritis for which he was prescribed prednisone and Orencia. Both drugs are immunosuppressants, meaning they are known to compromise the immune system and increase the risk of an infection.

After receiving a third dose of Orencia, the plaintiff reported to the defendant with complaints of a fever, drenching night sweats, fatigue, a low blood pressure, and a high pulse rate. The defendant drew labs in his office and the results, which were available the next day, showed an elevated white blood cell count with a shift to the left, strongly indicative of an infection. The defendant prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic for presumed pneumonitis.

Five days later, the plaintiff reported to another physician with complaints of severe chills and a fever and was referred to the emergency department for further evaluation.

After a workup, the plaintiff was diagnosed with perforated diverticulitis, multiple intra-abdominal abscesses, and seeding of a pulmonary abscess. He was administered IV antibiotics for sepsis. He required multiple procedures and surgeries including the placement of a colostomy. The plaintiff was hospitalized for 33 days and had a colostomy for 5 months before it was reversed.

The plaintiff claimed the defendant was negligent in failing to identify the signs and symptoms of sepsis, and to immediately refer the plaintiff to the emergency department, as the plaintiff was taking two immunosuppressants – Orencia and prednisone– which masked the signs of an underlying infection. Additionally, given the plaintiff’s smoking history, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant should have strongly considered a respiratory infection within the differential diagnosis given the plaintiff’s complaints and lab results.

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