Jury finds Bohlke, Allina negligent in wrongful death trial

NEW ULM – A trial jury determined Friday that former New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) emergency department physician Dale W. Bohlke, M.D. was negligent in the care of Verlyn Buls in the day leading up to Buls’ death at the NUMC on Oct. 25, 2006, but that Buls was at least partially responsible for his own death.

The jury in the civil trial determined Friday afternoon that Bohlke had been negligent in his treatment of Buls and that the negligence caused Buls death. But the jury also determined that Buls was negligent for not divulging his complete medical symptoms. The jury determined the responsibility for Buls’ death fell 40 percent on Buls and 60 percent on Bohlke.

The jury set the reasonable payout for its determination at $410,000. Since the jury determined the death was 60 percent Bohlke’s fault, the final pay-out for surviving family of Buls will be $246,000.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Buls surviving family, was brought against Bohlke, the NUMC and the Allina Health Systems in Brown County District Court.

The lawsuit, which was filed Sept. 30, 2010, focused on 45-year-old Iowa trucker Buls, who collapsed and could not be resuscitated on Oct. 25, 2006 in the NUMC emergency department. He had been admitted earlier that morning and treated for urticaria (or hives) of unknown origin and abnormally low blood pressure. Buls had a history of taking anti-hypertensives (drugs used to treat high blood pressure, and tachycardia, or a heart rate exceeding 100 beats per minute), according to the court documents. He was released, but was re-admitted to the ER that evening, where he collapsed. The autopsy determined the cause of death was cardiac dysrhythmia (irregular heart beat) with underlying coronary artery disease, according to court documents.

The civil lawsuit claims Bohlke acted improperly in his initial examination of Buls when he measured Buls’ heart beat, respiration and other vital statistics, then concluded the examination without ordering more extensive tests.

Both sides delivered their final arguments earlier in the day before the jury began deliberations.

The plaintiffs’ side argued that Buls, who weighted over 400 pounds when admitted, had clear, physical signs of problems and a medical history that showed an obvious risk of heart complications.

The defense for Allina and Bohlke argue that Buls’ symptoms, like blood pressure, had subsided by the time Bohlke examined him, and that Buls had even more critically failed to tell Bohlke about the chest pains and vomiting he had experienced that day. The defense argued that given the actual symptoms observed by Bohlke and the information that Buls did not disclose, Bohlke had acted in the only reasonable way expected for the “standards of care” that doctors must follow.

Toby Freier, president of the New Ulm Medical Center, said in a statement that the hospital is saddened by the loss to the Buls family, but feels the weight of evidence still show the hospital care providers acted appropriately, given the information provided by Buls.

Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at jmoniz@nujournal.com

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