On May 15, 1989, 38-year old Gracie Kennard, wife and mother of two children, presented to the hospital with complaints of rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. Gracie was sent home but returned later that night with her husband who described what he felt was “seizure activity” along with fever, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat. Gracie was placed on a heart monitor which showed a heart rate of close to 150 bpm. While on the monitoring floor, Gracie began screaming and acting strangely. She had previously been admitted to the hospital in August 1998 for psychotic behavior including auditory hallucinations but was released and seemed to be doing well.
Due to Gracie’s behavior during the May hospitalization, her treating physician, defendant Dr. Stanley Benjamin, along with Gracie’s treating psychiatrist, Dr. Bjornstad decided to transfer Gracie to the psychiatric floor where no heart monitor was available. Gracie’s heart problems were ignored and studies which would have revealed the condition which ultimately led to her death were not performed. Accordingly, on May 17, 1989, hospital staff discovered Gracie collapsed on the floor and she was subsequently pronounced dead as a result of cardiac arrythmia.
A medical malpractice lawsuit was initiated against Dr. Benjamin alleging he fell below accepted standards of care in failing to recognize Gracie’s heart problem. The defense contended that because of Gracie’s psychotic episodes, there was no choice but to transfer her to the psychiatric floor where no heart monitor was available. The defense further argued that no monitor was necessary insofar as psychotic patients often suffer from fast heartbeats.
On January 31, 1992, a jury found in favor of Gracie and her family finding that Dr. Benjamin was negligent in failing to keep Gracie on the cardiac floor and dismissing her symptoms as being a result of her psychotic behavior. The jury further found that Dr. Benjamin was negligent in failing to properly order tests which would have revealed Gracie’s heart enzymes were elevated indicating a cardiac problem.
The jury awarded Gracie’s family $1.4 million as compensation for her untimely and avoidable death.