A St. Louis medical malpractice case ended with the jury finding in favor of the defendant SLUCare and against the plaintiff after a 50 minute deliberation on Friday, June 11, 2010. Barbara Williams, of Arkansas, was diagnosed with liver disease in St. Louis, Missouri. The doctor, Dr. Alex Befeler, a doctor at St. Louis University Liver Transplant Center, decided that Williams needed a liver transplant, but that due to Medicaid rules would have to have the evaluation and any transplant surgery done in Arkansas, where she resided. Williams eventually died, 6 weeks after the evaluation for a liver transplant began in Arkansas.
Williams’s family alleged that Dr. Befeler should have evaluated Williams himself in St. Louis. Williams had already been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver prior to seeing Dr. Befeler. When she first saw Dr. Befeler, he diagnosed her with cirrhosis with autoimmune hepatitis overlap, and ordered treatment with prednisone, weekly lab work, and told her to come visit once a month.
Williams was not entirely compliant with the doctor’s orders. She began taking the prednisone, but did not always get weekly lab work done and did not see Dr. Befeler every month for an office visit as Dr. Befeler told her to. She also discontinued taking the prednisone after only taking it 2 months. She also had only been taking half of the dosage of her prednisone, when she did take it. Dr. Befeler testified he advised her to take the prednisone and how important it was to follow his instructions with regard to her health care. He advised her that following his treatment could result in postponing her need for a liver transplant, and that she needed to be compliant to show that she would “take care” of her new liver if in fact she did require one.
SLUCare’s expert witness testified that he was critical of the Arkansas doctors. Due to Medicaid rules, Williams had to be evaluated for her transplant there and Dr. Befeler had contacted the transplant center in Arkansas about Williams. All the hepatologists who testified said that a transplant evaluation can take a week or two, not six weeks like in Williams’s case.
This case is a reminder of how important it is to follow a doctor’s orders. Not only could it help save or prolong your life, in this situation, it is likely the jury looked unfavorably at Williams situation because she allegedly did not follow doctors orders.