A Manchester man whose wife died in 1985 of a ruptured brain aneurysm is suing an Anchor Street doctor, a Baltimore County neurologist and a prominent Baltimore neurosurgeon for $2.5 million.
The trial in the negligence and wrongful death suit, filed in July 1989 on behalf of George Simpers and the estate of his wife, Bertie, began Wednesday in Carroll Circuit Court and is expected to continue through this week.
In the suit, Simpers claims that his wife's March 1985 death in Baltimore's Mercy Hospital was caused by the negligence of John S. Harshey of Anchor Street, Randallstown neurologist Solomon D. Robbins and Baltimore neurosurgeon Fred N. Sugar.
"Defendants negligently failed to order or perform . . . tests and procedures in a timely manner," said the suit, filed by Baltimore attorney William Burgy. "Timelytreatment of the aneurysm would have led to a successful outcome instead of the actual result, that is, further bleeding causing Mrs. Simpers' subsequent death."
An aneurysm is an enlargement of an artery, vein or blood vessel that is caused by disease or injury. If that enlargement bleeds -- or bursts -- it can be fatal.
In opening arguments Thursday, attorneys for the three doctors contested the claim,saying that Simpers and his attorney benefit from hindsight, an option that no doctor has in diagnosing and treating illnesses.
"It isa retrospective look back," Conrad W. Varner, Harshey's Frederick attorney, told the jury. "Of course, knowing what we know now, it's easy to say, 'Gee, there it is.' "
Bertie Simpers had a history of debilitating headaches dating to the mid-1960s, testimony showed. Thoseheadaches sometimes caused her to miss three or five days from work at a time. A fall down a staircase resulted in chiropractic treatmentfor five or six weeks, testimony showed.
Harshey admitted her to Carroll County General Hospital in 1985 for three days after she complained that her back and right leg were in severe pain and that she "felt like someone hit her head with an ax."
Throughout her headaches and back pain, Harshey conducted tests -- some of them head scans -- that did not reveal an aneurysm. Given the pains in her back and leg, a headache does not necessarily mean an aneurysm is present, the defendants' attorneys said.
Robbins and Sugar were called into thecase in March 1985, after Bertie Simpers' headaches reappeared. Robbins consulted Sugar after Simpers was admitted to Baltimore County General Hospital. Sugar performed a test that showed the presence of a brain aneurysm, but Simpers died several days later at Mercy Hospitalbefore surgery could be performed.
Simpers' attorney argues that had doctors found the aneurysm before March 1985, his wife might not have died. The doctors' attorneys dispute that.
"Her symptoms could have been from many different diseases," Varner said. "Back and legpain is one of the most common pains that human beings experience, and (the combination of symptoms) simply does not compute with an aneurysm."
While the doctors' attorneys say the case is one in which sympathy is natural -- Simpers was diagnosed with prostate cancer lastyear, and he is unable to work -- that sympathy is irrelevant to thecase.
"You should have sympathy for Mr. Simpers," Varner told thejury. "But at some point you have to disregard that sympathy, and filter out the impurity of hindsight."