Lompoc widow seeks damages for husband’s death

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Lompoc widow seeks damages for husband’s death By Quintin Cushner – Staff Writer 6/22/04 A wrongful death lawsuit brought by a Lompoc widow against a local doctor may go to a jury today in Santa Maria. The plaintiff, Patricia Hargis, 68, claims that Dr. Jeffrey Polito, an internist for Valley Medical Group in Lompoc, was negligent in caring for her late husband. Harold Hargis, 67, died Oct. 19, 2001, at Lompoc District Hospital of abdominal bleeding. His widow is seeking noneconomic damages of about $250,000, economic damages of about $200,000, burial expenses of $8,000 and court costs. Treatment that Hargis received on the night before his death is the focus of the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s late husband went into shock on the evening of Oct. 18, 2001, while a patient at Lompoc District Hospital, according to the suit. As the patient’s pulse zoomed and his blood pressure fell, a nurse at the hospital phoned Hargis’ urologist, Dr. Robert Reiner, who advised them to increase Hargis’ intravenous fluid and bed rest, and deferred to Dr. Jeffrey Polito, an internist whose practice was treating the man, the suit said. According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Eugene Locken, Polito advised nurses over the phone, providing the same advice that Reiner gave. The plaintiffs believe that Polito’s orders were not enough. Their expert witness, Dr. James Leo, testified that Hargis’ life could have been saved had someone ordered him to undergo additional blood testing to detect the internal bleeding. The defense claims that though Polito was contacted by a nurse at the hospital, he never gave any orders that night. However, evidence introduced at the trial appeared to show that about two weeks after Hargis’ death, Polito signed off on the orders that he claims not to have given. Defense witness Dr. Thomas McBreen testified Monday that signing off on such orders was a routine matter for doctors, and it’s possible that Polito signed without taking a good look at what he was affirming. After this morning’s closing arguments, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville is expected to give the case to the jury to deliberate. The case is being heard in his Santa Maria courtroom. For a plaintiff to win a civil case, 9 of 12 jurors must find in the plaintiff’s favor. Jurors must decide only that there is a “preponderance of evidence” that a claim is true, a lower standard than the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Staff writer Quintin Cushner can be reached at 739-2217 or by e-mail at qcushner@pulitzer.net. :nav Source: http://www.lompocrecord.com/articles/2004/06/22/news/news19.txt

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