WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM GOES TO JURY.
A Santa Fe jury has begun weighing a wrongful-death claim against Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and a former surgeon there by the family of Espanola electrician Andy Montoya.
Montoya, 74, died Dec. 11, 2005, four days after Dr. Lawrence Goldstein's surgery to unblock Montoya's carotid artery.
Montoya's children allege Goldstein was slow to correct post-operative complications that began when someone lowered the head of Montoya's bed in the intensive-care unit.
In closing arguments Thursday morning, lawyers for the Montoyas, Goldstein and the hospital disputed claims made by expert witnesses over the last week in the trial that began Oct. 14 before state District Judge Jim Hall.
The Montoyas' lawyer, Richard Sandoval of Albuquerque, urged the jury to return both compensatory and punitive damages to "send a message" to the hospital, Goldstein and other doctors. "They just don't get it," he said. "You've got to make them understand."
Sandoval said if Goldstein had been counseled about his slow response to concerns about patients' conditions, "Andy Montoya's death could have been prevented. ... St. Vincent is responsible. They knew Dr. Goldstein was not responsive."
Goldstein's contract with the Santa Fe hospital was not renewed the year following Montoya's death for reasons unrelated to that case. He now lives in California and is suing Christus St. Vincent over his dismissal, but he has been in court for the trial.
One of Goldstein's two lawyers, Kathleen Wilson of Albuquerque, accused Sandoval of mounting a "character assassination" on Goldstein with "outrageous claims" amounting to "smoke and distraction."
Wilson said Goldstein left the hospital and went home on the evening of Dec. 8, the day after Montoya's surgery, because caregivers thought Montoya was doing well -- not because the doctor was unresponsive to complaints. Even Montoya's family members, who had kept a close watch by his bedside, were so convinced he was improving that they went home, too, Wilson said.
Wilson said Montoya's official cause of death was "aspiration" from saliva or other fluids in his throat -- something that could not have been anticipated. "There is no message you need to send," she said.
William Slattery, one of two lawyers representing Christus St. Vincent, denied the hospital was negligent. Although one nurse filed a written complaint -- called a variance report -- against Goldstein in an unrelated case, he said, the nurse who complained about Goldstein's response in Montoya's case never filed a formal report. "A summary discharge (of Goldstein) is not warranted by one formal variance report," Slattery said.
Slattery said Sandoval's criticism on an expert witness for the defense, nursing expert Linda Cole, who said Montoya's agitation could have been from alcohol withdrawal, amounted to the plaintiffs setting up "an evil straw person." Slattery attacked the credibility of Arthur Shorr, an expert witness for the plaintiffs who criticized the hospital's response to complaints about things such as Montoya's bed being wet. "Those things shouldn't happen and I apologize to the extent they did," he said. "But those things didn't cause Andy Montoya's death."
The eight-woman, four-man jury began deliberating at noon Thursday. They went home shortly before 5 p.m. without reaching a verdict and are expected to resume this morning.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or email@example.com.
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