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Zion v. New York Hospital: 1994-95

Conflicting Trial Testimony

As the trial opened on November 10, 1994, plaintiff attorney Thomas A. Moore asked for $2 million for Libby's pain and suffering, plus $1 for her wrongful death. He cited a litany of reasons for punitive damages, including:

Dr. Sherman, as attending physician, had failed to appear at the hospital;

the patient's fever was ignored;

her vital signs were not monitored properly;

she was administered Demorol even though her current medications included Nardil;

she was held in restraints;

Dr. Weinstein did not respond to calls from nurses for assistance.

The defense admitted that administering Demerol had been wrong, but insisted that had not caused Libby's death. Eleven hospital witnesses testified that Libby's care had been appropriate.

Judge Elliott Wilk presided, as plaintiff lawyer Moore debated defense attorney Frank Bensel over whether Libby's agitated condition had begun at home or in the emergency room. Dr. Charles Wetli, the hospital's expert in forensic pathology, testified that Libby did not have pneumonia; but its expert in infectious diseases, Dr. William McCormack, testified that early signs of pneumonia were present. The plaintiff's star witness, Dr. Harold Osborn, director of emergency services at the South Bronx's Lincoln Hospital, accused the doctors of doing virtually everything wrong. In an intensive debate over whether Libby's infection had been due to viral or bacterial causes, Dr. Osborn said her white blood cell count indicated that bacteria were present even though none appeared in her urine.

Plaintiff attorney Moore insisted that the combination of Nardil, the antidepressant drug Libby had been using since January, and Demerol, administered in the hospital after the Zions went home, had brought about her death. Defendant Dr. Luise Weinstein admitted that she had failed to notice the phrase "death can result" while checking the Physicians' Desk Reference for information on the drug combination. Defendant Dr. Sherman testified that a cocaine-Nardil reaction was a possible cause of her death. And the hospital's expert in standard of care, Dr. Robert Glickman, testified that the cause of Libby's death "was operative before she entered the hospital" because "the events in the hospital are not adequate to explain why she died."

Finally, defendant Dr. Gregg Stone testified, "Based on the evidence and what we've learned over the years, I think cocaine is what killed this poor girl."

Further testimony addressed the issue of whether the intern's and residents' lack of sleep contributed to Libby's death. A defense witness and sleep expert, Dr. Michael Thorpe, said Dr. Weinstein had not been sleep deprived, while the plaintiff's expert witness Dr. Merrill Mitler observed that sleepdeprived doctors are likely to ignore patients' warning signs and may not check medical literature.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Zion v. New York Hospital: 1994-95 - Formal Complaint Served, Conflicting Trial Testimony, Both Demerol And Doctors Blamed, Suggestions For Further Reading