$7.75M Verdict Illustrating Cardiac Red Flags

Keith A. Hebeisen, Esq., and Bradley M. Cosgrove, Esq., Clifford Law Offices, Chicago, IL

When a patient with a clear history of heart problems died of a heart attack shortly after surgery, attorneys at Clifford Law Offices needed to show why a neurosurgeon was negligent in pushing a non-urgent procedure without waiting on cardiac clearance.

Explaining cardiology and presurgical risk to a jury can be extremely difficult, but veteran malpractice attorneys Keith Hebeisen and Bradley M. Cosgrove understood the importance of focusing their case on the key points that contributed to their client’s death.

They needed to show:

  • The patient’s heart was clearly and dangerously outside the normal conditions for surviving this type of surgery.
  • The patient displayed at least 10 surgical risk factors that pointed to a history of cardiovascular disease - including a prior heart attack and a coronary bypass surgery - which should have warranted cardiac clearance by a cardiologist or primary physician. The neurosurgeon did not wait on a cardiac evaluation.
  • The patient’s EKG monitor, interpreted two days before surgery, displayed multiple abnormalities.
  • Necessary preparation was not made in anticipation of a cardiac episode during surgery.
  • The patient’s original condition - neck pains - did not warrant the careless urgency with which the neurosurgeon ignored these red flags, and went ahead with a surgery that directly caused the wrongful death of his patient.

We built the following exhibits to help Clifford Law Offices secure a $7.75M jury award for the patient’s family.

Keith A. Hebeisen, Esq., Clifford Law Offices, Chicago, IL
The demonstratives told a compelling story of how this tragedy unfolded. The team had the tools to teach the jury and ensure a great verdict for our client.

Exhibit A: Stacking Up the Red Flags

This exhibit illustrates the long list of risk factors that contributed to the patient’s heart attack. It also highlights the two risks at the top to show how the neurosurgeon’s decision to push forward without cardiac clearance directly contributed to a wrongful death.

Ruth Rose, Director of Interactive Design, High Impact
Build boards are an excellent way of illustrating what risk factors an individual might have had, and how they build on each other--essentially compounding to a much higher level of risk than any one factor might have had on its own.

Exhibit B: Anchoring the Heart of the Case

This exhibit illustrates what a heart looks like after it’s been through a lifetime of smoking, a heart attack, five artery stents, a coronary bypass surgery, and more (Outlined in Exhibit A above). It anchored the case with a powerful visual jurors would remember when considering liability and negligence.

Exhibit C: Comparing Normal and Abnormal

Comparing the patient’s heart to a normal heart helped familiarize the jury with what these risk factors actually looked like. The illustrations also strengthened Hebeisen and Cosgrove’s case with an accurate visual jurors could understand when deliberating these otherwise seemingly abstract medical terminologies.

Exhibit D: Snapshots of Cardiovascular History

This next exhibit illustrates the patient’s cardiac history in three snapshots, helping jurors recognize the magnitude of risk that was ignored. The first image shows what his arteries looked like at 85% stenosis before undergoing a stent procedure on multiple arteries. The next image shows his arteries after a stent procedure. The third concludes with a very graphic illustration depicting the re-stenosis of his artery, which led to a coronary bypass surgery. Together, these three pictures tell a story of a vulnerable patient with an extensive cardiac history that deserved a cardiac evaluation prior to surgery.

Exhibit E-H: Educating a Jury on EKG Monitoring

You are looking at an electrocardiogram feed covered in blatantly obvious red flags that almost all medical providers are trained to recognize - but what about the average citizen sitting in your jury? Before a jury could understand the full magnitude of negligence in this case, Hebeisen and Cogrove needed them to understand how an EKG monitor works. There are four red flags in this EKG feed that should have been taken into consideration by the neurosurgeon, and should have led to postponing the surgery.

Exhibit E: Understanding EKG Waves

An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a test used to detect problems with the electrical activity of a heart. It displays this data as line tracings on paper, with spikes and dips in the tracings called waves. This illustration breaks down a normal wave, using color to help jurors associate how information across multiple exhibits is related. This color-coded exhibit breaks down a single EKG wave for the next exhibit.

Exhibit F: Highlighting Obvious Inconsistencies

Once Hebeisen and Cosgrove had established what a normal wave looks like, they highlighted the abnormalities in their client’s EKG, taken two days before surgery. The color-coded exhibits established the obvious inconsistencies in comparison to healthy readings, and helped Hebeisen and Cosgrove demonstrate the red flags that were ignored. This exhibit highlights abnormalities in the patient’s EKG readings.

Exhibit G: Enhanced Visual Context

After highlighting the red flags that were ignored, Hebeisen and Cosgrove took their presentation a step further to visually show jurors what these abnormalities mean. These exhibits map the locations of cardiac signals displayed in the previous exhibit, using color to help jurors visually associate each reading with what was happening in the actual heart. Mapping out the location of each reading provided heightened visual context to an otherwise abstract data point.

Exhibit H: 14 Days of Negligence

Finally, Hebeisen and Cosgrove needed to establish when all these oversights took place. This timeline charts the medical negligence, which started the day their client was scheduled for surgery without a cardiac evaluation. The use of color intensifies as the chain of events progresses and oversights and bad decisions add up. Visual cues, such as the EKG image help jurors associate what they’re seeing with previous exhibits. Timelines are powerful and necessary in any legal case involving time.

Darlene Garber, Visual Media Strategist, High Impact

Darlene is High Impact’s Denver-based Visual Media Strategist who has experience working with all types of catastrophic injuries not just at High Impact, but as a former firefighter paramedic with advanced medical training. She yields an insider understanding of the healthcare industry’s standard of care procedures, and she will insure your case is coordinated properly and delivered on deadline. Contact Darlene.

High Impact’s team of visual strategists, artists and developers can build and customize your digital presentation for any case involving personal injury, medical malpractice, birth trauma - or any subject involving complex information.

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