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Personal Injury Verdicts & Awards

Doctors' gaffes led to death, attorney says

Frank Thornton died because two doctors at Mercy Hospital made mistake during surgery, and doctor told man's family after surgery that patient was doing fine, attorney says.

By David Weiss

WILKES-BARRE - Hospital personnel lied to a man's family after two doctors mistakenly put a breathing tube down his esophagus instead of his windpipe during surgery, leading to the man's brain damage and death, an attorney said.

The doctors - one who failed a medical exam five times - put 72-year-old Frank Thornton under anesthetic for an operation and then attempted to put him on a ventilator while performing the surgery at Mercy Hospital in August 2000.

The doctors, Esther McKenzie and Walter Boris, allowed oxygen to fill his stomach through his esophagus for up to 10 minutes and ignored indications that the tube was in the wrong pipe, said attorney Joseph Quinn.

Quinn made the allegations Wednesday in the first day of a civil jury trial. He is representing Dorothy Thornton, administrator to the estate of her husband, Frank. She filed suit in August against Mercy Health Care and others after her husband's surgery.

"Something terrible happened," Quinn said. "Something that should have never happened."

But McKenzie's attorney, J. Scott Kramer, said the doctor warned Thornton of the risks, including death, involved with the procedure.

And he urged jurors to pay close attention and scrutinize the plaintiff's witnesses because they will try to focus their testimony on certain issues instead of all the aspects.

Kramer also said Thornton had a history of smoking, was taking blood pressure medication and suffered pulmonary disease.

In his opening statement, Quinn said doctors noticed a minute growth on one of Thornton's lungs during a successful heart procedure in March 2000.

Instead of telling Thornton about alternative examinations he could have undergone to monitor the growth without surgery, Thornton was told he needed surgery.

On Aug. 18, he was given the anesthetic for the surgery and the medical staff put him on the ventilator. But Quinn said the ventilator tube was placed into Thornton's esophagus for six to 10 minutes.

The doctors, he said, missed classic signs that the tube was not properly in place. Thornton's stomach swelled from the air, his heart rate dropped and his carbon dioxide level increased, Quinn said.

Quinn said a medical instrument is normally used to make sure ventilation tubes are used properly. It's a simple move, Quinn said, that should not be overlooked.

After Thornton's death, two medical examinations were performed. They showed Thornton died from asphyxiation because of inappropriate ventilation, Quinn said.

The attorney also said McKenzie, who was hired to fill a temporary opening, did not have credentials to be in the hospital that day and failed the written part of a medical exam five times before the Aug. 18 incident.

Kramer said not being a good test taker should not be held against his client.

Quinn also said Boris, after surgery, told Thornton's wife her husband was doing fine.

"Frank Thornton should have never had brain damage," Quinn said. "And the hospital from top to bottom never told the family the truth."

The trial could last several weeks before Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski, Jr.

PLEASE NOTE: Every case is fact specific, and these results do not guaranty the same results will be obtained in a different case.

About HKQ Law

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms that has had the privilege of representing more families in the courtroom than any other NEPA firm. The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Report, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. HKQ Law was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, Jr., has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history. The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A Quinn, Jr. is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm across multiple categories in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

Additional information can be found at or by calling (800) 760-1529.



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