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Malpractice trial begins over death of Tamaqua woman

Published October 20. 2009 05:00PM

A jury began hearing testimony Monday in the Schuylkill County Court on the malpractice suit brought by Leonard D. Clouser, 435 Willing St., Tamaqua, against three area physicians, Dr. Kailash R. Makhija and Dr. Richard C. Miller, both of 281 N. 12th Street, Lehighton, and Dr. Thomas J. Dirnberger, 211 E. Broad St., Tamaqua. All three doctors deny any wrongdoing.

Clouser brought the suit as administrator of the estate of his late wife, Gina M. Clouser. She had undergone a Caesarean Section on June 29, 2000, which was performed by Dr. Miller. The baby girl was born normal and is now nine years old and attending school in Tamaqua. The suit claims after being discharged from the hospital Mrs. Clouser started feeling ill with no appetite. She complained of fever type symptoms and diaphoresis and became lethargic, worsening from day to day.

She saw Miller on July 2, 2000, who removed staples from the operation and checked her out for any infection and prescribed an antibiotic. On June 29, 2002 she went to an emergency room complaining of feeling nauseas, feverish, vomiting with poor appetite and was examined by Dr. Makhija, who was filling in for Miller. He ordered several tests. She later saw Dr. Dirnberger on two visits to his office but did not follow his recommendation to be admitted to a hospital.

Two days after her last visit to Dirnberger, Aug. 4, 2002, she went to the emergency room at the St. Luke's Miners Memorial Medical Center in Coaldale and they transferred her to Lehigh Valley Hospital and she died Aug. 25, 2002, at age 29.

All the testimony which will be presented to the jury will come from expert witnesses presented by both sides and the physicians. The trial is anticipated to run into next week. All the testimony will be from the experts reviewing all the records pertaining to the case to determine whether any of the doctors were negligent in carrying out the standard duties of physicians and the jury will have to decide which experts to believe.

The husband is seeking damages under the Wrongful Death and Survival Act, pain and suffering and loss of wages.

The first expert witness testified for the Clouser estate, was Dr. Jeffrey W. Lerch, of Illinois. He testified he examined all the records dealing with Gina Clouser from the hospital and from the physician and of the depositions of the testimony given by each doctor. In his opinion they should have made further evaluations then they had performed because in his words, "the standard of care required for full evaluation to disclose the problem." He claimed because her pulse rate was recorded at 120 it could be determined she may be suffering from spike fever, and further evaluation should have been taken.

He was placed under a long and scrutinized cross examination by the attorneys representing the physicians. Lerch testified he has appeared as an expert witness for clients bringing suits against doctors in a number of states. He was asked about the rate he charges for his involvement. Lerch testified his rate is $350 per hour for reviewing the documents and $500 per hour for court appearance.

He was questioned on what documents he reviewed and he couldn't give specific answers but said he reviewed the hospital records and those kept by the physicians.

On a huge screen he was shown a record made by the Lehigh Valley Hospital when Gina Clouser was a patient being treated for sunburn several years ago. Her history gathered by the hospital, which was shown to the jury, was she weighed 217 pounds but at one time weighed close to 300 pounds and for a five-year period the record shows she smoked a half pack of cigarettes daily but did not use alcohol or drugs.

A great deal of time was spent discussing the 120 pulse rate. A hospital record of her admission to the hospital showed 120 rate and Lerch was asked if women who underwent similar Caesarian's showed increased rates.

Also the hospital record showed examinations disclosed all vital signs were normal and that Dr. Makhija ordered the proper tests and none indicated an acute illness and a cultural blood test. Lerch stuck to his findings that further tests should have been made.

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