Jury continues deliberations in wrongful death suit

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Jury continues deliberations in wrongful death suit By Quintin Cushner – Staff Writer 6/23/04 A Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury in Santa Maria this morning continued deliberations in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by a Lompoc widow against a local doctor. Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville sent the civil case to the jury after closing arguments on Tuesday. Plaintiff Patricia Hargis, 68, claims that Dr. Jeffrey Polito, when employed as an internist for Valley Medical Group, Inc. in Lompoc, was negligent in caring for her late husband. Harold Hargis, 67, died of abdominal bleeding on Oct. 19, 2001, at Lompoc District Hospital. During closing arguments, Patricia Hargis’ lawyer, Eugene Locken, argued that Hargis’ death was directly attributable to negligence by Polito and Valley Medical Group, Inc., because the patient was under their care. Defense attorney William Clinkenbeard, referring to earlier testimony by Hargis’ urologist, Dr. Robert Reiner, said during closing arguments that Hargis’ death could be attributed to earlier treatment he received, or to a prescription blood thinner he ingested. He also reiterated that Polito made no orders regarding Hargis that night. Treatment that Harold Hargis received on the night before his death is the focus of the lawsuit. Hargis went into shock on the evening of Oct. 18, 2001, while a patient at Lompoc District Hospital, according to the suit. As his pulse zoomed and his blood pressure fell, a nurse at the hospital phoned Reiner, who had admitted Hargis into the hospital. Reiner ordered that Hargis get bed rest and more intravenous fluid, then deferred the patient’s care to Polito, an internist whose medical practice was treating the man, the suit said. A nurse then telephoned Polito, although the two sides at the trial offered different accounts of what occurred during that phone call. According to Locken, Polito provided a hospital nurse with the same advice that Reiner gave. But Patricia Hargis claims that Polito’s orders were not enough. An expert witness, Dr. James Leo, testified that Hargis’ life could have been saved had someone ordered him to undergo additional tests to detect the internal bleeding. Defense attorney Clinkenbeard acknowledged that Polito was contacted by a nurse at the hospital, but said that Polito never gave any orders that night, nor would he ever without first examining a patient. However, documents introduced at the trial appeared to show that about two weeks after Hargis’ death, Polito signed off on the orders that he denied giving. 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. The defense also argued that there were other inconsistent markings on the orders. Patricia Hargis is seeking noneconomic damages of about $250,000, economic damages of about $200,000, burial expenses of $8,700 and court costs. For her to win the civil case, 9 out of 12 jurors must find in her favor. Jurors must decide only that there is a “preponderance of evidence” that the claim is true, a lower standard than the criminal requirement 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/2004/06/23/news/news07.txt

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