Luvera Law Firm announced an $18 million settlement with Swedish Health Services and others in a medical negligence case involving a radiologist who failed to identify evidence of a brain hemorrhage in an MRI for Isabel De Jesus-Congdon, a former Swedish Health lactation nurse. Several other Swedish physicians relied on the radiologist’s faulty conclusions, as De Jesus-Congdon continued to seek care until she ultimately suffered a catastrophic stroke, leaving the 61-year-old mother of two with irreparable cognitive and physical injuries.
Mrs. De Jesus-Congdon advocated for her care repeatedly over two weeks, including three visits to the emergency room, and the Swedish Health Services system failed her,” said Robert Gellatly of Luvera Law Firm, the lead attorney representing the Congdon family. “Then, throughout this case, the defense tried time after time to avoid responsibility. This settlement is a huge relief for the family after a long and hard-fought battle for accountability.”
For several years, De Jesus-Congdon’s husband, adult daughters and their attorneys fought to hold Swedish responsible for the negligence of Dr. Richard Travis Clark, an attending radiologist with a large radiology group under contract with Swedish, when De Jesus-Congdon suffered her devastating stroke. The health system pushed back, denying responsibility and, alternatively, placed blame on co-defendants Seattle Radiologists and Integra Imaging – Clark’s employers.
Then in spring 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the family encountered new headwinds when defense attorneys insisted on conducting depositions in person, which was not possible with pandemic-related travel and social-distancing restrictions, and would have added considerable delays to the case. Ultimately, the Luvera team won a motion allowing all-remote video depositions and preventing defense counsel from using in-person attendance as an excuse to delay the case. The motion is believed to be the first granted by King County Superior Court and has been cited by other cases to support virtual depositions.
“We immediately recognized the importance for this case, and others like it, to continue to move forward in a timely manner,” Gellatly said. “Not only do video depositions ensure the safety of witnesses, reporters, counsel and others, they also allow for a more efficient and cost-effective discovery process. We wanted to alleviate the burden on the Congdon family, and knew that we could prevent a delay by quickly using the technology available to us.”
De Jesus-Congdon’s tragic ordeal began on Oct. 18, 2016, when she visited Swedish’s First Hill Emergency Department complaining of a sudden and severe headache and mild nausea, according to court filings. Following a CT scan that was reviewed by Clark and interpreted as normal, De Jesus-Congdon was released from the hospital with a diagnosis of a headache. Five days later, on Oct. 23, 2016, she returned to the emergency department with continuing complaints of a headache and vomiting. The emergency physician ordered an MRI to investigate for possible stroke. Once again, the MRI imaging was sent to attending radiologist, Clark, working next door in a remote office, who interpreted the scan as “normal.”
However, the MRI was not normal. According to court documents, it showed obvious subarachnoid hemorrhage, or SAH, which is a life-threatening type of stroke, usually resulting from a burst blood vessel or aneurism. The suit notes that if Clark reported an SAH, the attending physician would have immediately called in a neurosurgeon to intervene and treat De Jesus-Congdon, instead of discharging her with a diagnosis of a headache once again.
“Although Dr. Clark later acknowledged that the MRI results clearly show the hemorrhage, and that he ‘should have caught it,’ this admission was too late for Mrs. De Jesus-Congdon and her family,” said Gellatly. “She should have been prepped for brain surgery, not sent home and told to take some aspirin.”
De Jesus-Congdon even returned to the emergency department on Oct. 30, 2016 for a third visit. Yet again, the attending physician specifically relied upon Clark’s MRI report stating there were no abnormalities, according to the suit. Just three days later, De Jesus-Congdon collapsed in her home and was rushed to Harborview Medical Center, where testing revealed she suffered a massive stoke.
“It’s devastating to know that if the radiologist had just identified the clear signs of stroke, Isabel could have undergone a routine procedure that would have likely allowed her to recover with full health,” said James Congdon, De Jesus-Congdon’s husband, who pursued the case along with their two daughters. “The settlement enables us to hold Swedish and the medical providers accountable, and to cover the expenses involved in my wife’s care. However, for Isabel, our girls and me, there is no way to ever recapture the life we once had. We continue to live this tragedy every day.”
Throughout the case, plaintiffs argued that although Clark was employed by Seattle Radiologists, which merged with Inland Imaging to form Integra Imaging, he was serving as an attending radiologist under contract at Swedish Health Services, making the health system liable for his negligence.
“Mrs. De Jesus-Congdon never met Dr. Clark and was never informed of Dr. Clark’s role in her health care, much less his employment status,” said Deborah Martin, one of the Luvera attorneys working on the case.
Gellatly added, “Concerningly, Dr. Clark’s testimony reveals an obvious lack of understanding of stroke and SAH, yet he was permitted to provide final interpretations of neuroimaging. On behalf of the Congdon family and the public at large, the settlement played a crucial role in holding all parties accountable for safe medical practices.”
The stroke caused extensive, irreversible injuries for De Jesus-Congdon. She suffers brain damage with profound cognitive impairment, partial paralysis and impairment of her arms and legs. She uses a wheelchair and is completely dependent on others for mobility and safety – requiring full-time care and supervision by family and professional caregivers for the rest of her life.
“Navigating the healthcare system, which is full of variables, mistakes and misinformation is exhausting,” said Mr. Congdon. “My family has spent the last four years trying to stay afloat with all of the care and services that are needed to support my wife, and we want to shed light on how the stress and trauma of spending months at the hospital can have lasting effects on patients as well as their families and caregivers.”
Gellatly added, “At the end of the day, patients should be able to trust the doctors that provide their care, whether it’s their primary care physician or a contracted radiologist. In an emergency, Mrs. De Jesus-Congdon and her family sought care from a familiar source – her place of employment, no less – not expecting this tragic ending. Though the settlement can’t heal the pain, we’re proud that we were able to achieve some measure of justice for the Congdon family.”