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Pennsylvania Surgeon Found Negligent for the Death of Thomas A. Natale; A Mercer County Jury Awards Family $5.1 Million

Pennsylvania Surgeon Found Negligent for the Death of Thomas A. Natale; A Mercer County Jury Awards Family $5.1 Million

Nearly a decade ago, Thomas A. Natale Jr. was standing on the back of a truck at work when he lost his balance and began to fall. Natale tried to brace himself before he hit the ground, but he landed directly on his hip. He was rushed by coworkers to the Sharon Regional Health emergency room, located in western Pennsylvania. When he arrived at the hospital he was in excruciating pain and the attending physician quickly determined that he broke his hip in the fall. The staff scheduled a hip replacement surgery two days later, on September 8, 2007.

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The night before the operation, however, Natale reported experiencing shortness of breath and had a fever of 102.1 degrees. Robert Piston and Emil Maurer, the doctors in charge of Natale, decided to postpone the procedure by one day. An X-ray was performed on Natale’s chest that was allegedly abnormal, but there is no record that shows that Piston or Maurer actually looked at the results. According to a medical malpractice lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Natale family, if the X-ray was consulted it would have been clear that the patient was not healthy enough to undergo surgery.

According to the lawsuit Natale’s fever worsened over the next day and he may have been suffering from both hypoxia, a lack of oxygen, and tachycardia, an accelerated heart rate. The attorneys representing Natale’s family argued in court that these were clear signs that the surgery should have been postponed for a second time. But instead, Natale was sedated and the three-hour operation was performed. According to court documents, Natale’s oxygen levels were dangerously low during the procedure.

After the successful hip replacement, Natale woke up in critical condition. The staff at the hospital rushed him to the West Penn Hospital, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was immediately put on life-support. Dr. Piston argued that Natale was suffering from adult respiratory distress syndrome and not aspiration pneumonia as contended by his lawyers. Regardless, it was less than a month later when Natale was taken off life-support and died.

After hearing the two-week trial, a Pennsylvania jury deliberated for just five hours before returning a verdict in favor of Natale. The jury awarded his family $5,093,790, which is the largest medical malpractice verdict in Mercer County since 1994. Both of Natale’s surviving children were allotted $2 million for the loss of their father. Piston was allocated 60 percent of the responsibility, Maurer was assigned 15 percent, and Sharon Regional was found to be 25 percent at fault. Piston, however, was the only defendant to not settle before the trial.

“We believe that the verdict was just,” said one of Natale’s lawyers.

It is not yet clear whether Piston will appeal the ruling.

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