Gary Patterson Secures Third Defense Verdict of 2024

On May 16, 2024, Gary W. Patterson, Jr. obtained another defense verdict before Justice Keith Lynott of the Superior Court, Essex County in New Jersey.  Mr. Patterson was assisted by associate, Angela Bonica, and appellate counsel, Adonaid Medina, in securing the win.  

This wrongful death action concerned claims of a failure to protect the decedent’s airway during an emergency room presentation, leading to brain damage and death of a 59-year-old male.  The decedent was initially seen at an urgent care center for complaints of a swollen tongue and sore throat.  He was diagnosed with angioedema, a potentially life- threatening allergic reaction, and told to go to the emergency room immediately. 

On arrival to the emergency room, a physician’s assistant examined the patient and suspected Ludwig’s Angina, a rare infectious process involving the soft tissues of the mouth and neck.  It is a type of severe cellulitis that can quickly progress, leading to airway compromise.   The ER attending agreed with the assessment and called for an otolaryngology (ENT) consultation to assess the posterior airway by fiberoptic examination.  A second year ENT resident responded to the request and performed the evaluation.  She consulted with Mr. Patterson’s client, a board-certified otolaryngologist, who was on call.  As the fiberoptic exam revealed a patent airway, the ENT team recommended antibiotic coverage and close observation. The decedent underwent a CT scan of the neck, confirming the diagnosis of Ludwig’s Angina.  Roughly an hour later, the patient developed difficulty breathing and a code was called.  Attempts at oral and nasal intubation were unsuccessful.  As such, an emergent cricothyrotomy was performed at bedside.  Unfortunately, the patient suffered from a hypoxic brain injury, leading to his passing two months later.  He left behind a wife and two adult children.

Plaintiff was represented by a well-regarded law firm, who argued that the defendant physician departed from accepted practice in failing to recommend intubation.  The pre-trial demand was $3.5 million. 

Plaintiff called an otolaryngology expert from Harvard Medical School, who opined that the airway should have been protected in light of the decedent’s significant oral airway swelling, tachypnea and low oxygen saturation levels.  The expert claimed the swelling progressed, leading to airway collapse and respiratory arrest.  On cross-examination, the expert was forced to concede that the patient’s disease process had been stable for several hours, he was in no acute distress, and the oxygen saturation level was normal for a patient with his history of COPD and long-term smoking.  The defense ENT expert established that plaintiff had used select CT imaging to mislead the jury into believing there was significant airway compromise.  

Mr. Patterson also offered an alternative explanation for the respiratory distress.  Just before the code was called, an EKG was performed in the supine position.  It was argued that this likely led to difficulty handling secretions, aspiration and laryngospasm.  On cross-examination, plaintiff’s expert conceded that he was entirely unaware of the EKG being performed just before the event. After a four-week trial, the jury returned a defense verdict in less than an hour.  This was Mr. Patterson’s third defense verdict of 2024 and second in New Jersey.