Jury awards $5.5 million to Brooke Co. widow for husband's death at Weirton Medical Center

By Kyla Asbury | Jun 18, 2018

WELLSBURG — A jury awarded $5.5 million to a Brooke County woman whose husband died while at Weirton Medical Center.

The jury awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages, $2 million for sorrow and mental anguish and $2 million in punitive damages. No economic damages were awarded.

The trial was in two phases and in the second phase the jury was presented with evidence and argument concerning whether punitive damages should be awarded. The jury returned the second $2 million for the total of a $5.5 million verdict.

“Negligent medical practices are now the third leading cause of death in the United States," Bob Fitzsimmons said in a news release. "We should all expect competent medical care for ourselves and loved ones. When hospitals and doctors needlessly endanger patients, we expect them to be held accountable just like everyone else. This jury’s verdict sends a strong message that such reckless treatment and care will not be tolerated in our communities.”

The 2014 lawsuit was cited the medical center for the death of Frank E. Heffner. Nancy E. Heffner was the executor of Frank Heffner's estate and his wife.

Frank Heffner was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and was improperly intubated into his esophagus, which deprived him of oxygen.

Weirton Medical Cente failed to timely remove Frank Heffner's breathing tube when the CO2 monitor attached to the endotracheal tube did not change color, which meant the proper exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide was not happening.

An employee of the hospital testified at the trial that the certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) who had improperly placed Frank Heffner's breathing tube had been told the tube was wrongfully placed, but didn't heed those warnings and left.

Frank Heffner then suffocated to death.

There was also evidence that was uncovered at the trial that the medical center fraudulently changed Frank Heffner's medical records in order to hide how long he had been with the misplaced breathing tube.

The medical center also failed to fill out an incident report after the incident occurred, which was mandatory. 

“On behalf of the plaintiff and her family, our community, and our firm, we want to thank the jury for their service and serious deliberations,” Brent Wear said in a news release. “This verdict shows that the people of Brooke County and West Virginia understand that life is sacred and is something that we must always protect.”

Nancy Heffner was represented by Fitzsimmons and Wear of Fitzsimmons Law Firm. Weirton Medical Center was represented by Sandra M. Chapman.

The case was presided over by Circuit Judge Jason A. Cuomo.

Brooke Circuit Court Case number: 14-C-137

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