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Divided Court Backs Anesthesiologist In Patient Death

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A divided appeals court Wednesday sided with an anesthesiologist in a Miami-Dade County medical malpractice case involving a woman who died while undergoing surgery for a tumor in her skull.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a circuit judge's directed verdict in favor of anesthesiologist Arturo Lorenzo. The case stemmed from the 2009 death of 45-year-old Maria Elena Espinosa, whose estate sued two anesthesiologists, two neurosurgeons and an internist, according to Wednesday's ruling. Lorenzo conducted a pre-anesthesia evaluation of Espinosa, who later died on the operating table of what the majority opinion said was exsanguination, which involves blood loss.

The case focused, in part, on whether Lorenzo properly considered an abnormal electrocardiogram in the evaluation. But the majority said Lorenzo had acted properly and that another anesthesiologist also conducted an evaluation before the surgery.

“There is no competent, substantial evidence at trial from which a jury could reasonably conclude that Dr. Lorenzo's behavior fell below the standard of care, or that any breach of the standard of care more likely than not caused Espinosa's death,” said the majority opinion, written by appeals-court Judge Ivan Fernandez and joined by Judge Richard Suarez.

But Judge Kevin Emas wrote a 13-page dissent that said the case should be sent back to circuit court for a new trial. Emas described as a “red flag” the abnormal electrocardiogram and used the same description for an abnormal urine test, which Lorenzo did not review.

The majority opinion said the other anesthesiologist and the internist settled before trial, while the jury returned a verdict against the two neurosurgeons in the case.