Jury Returns $5.8 Million Verdict Against Hartford Hospital

Hartford Courant
Dave Altimari
January 25, 2017

A Superior Court jury Tuesday awarded $5.8 million to the family of a Naugatuck man who survived open heart surgery only to die when Hartford Hospital personnel failed to reconnect the wires of his pacemaker before giving him a potent narcotic.

William Ashmore, 68, underwent successful cardiac surgery to repair a heart valve on Oct. 26, 2011. He was transferred to a room where postoperative cardiac patients are monitored continuously after temporary external pacemaker wires were installed.

The wires are designed to help accelerate a person's heartbeat if it slowed — a common occurrence in postoperative patients and precisely the reason for easily accessible wires, according to his lawyer, Eric P. Smith of Faxon Law Group in New Haven.

On the second day after the surgery, Ashmore's heart rate slowed to dangerously low levels, which is a condition known as bradycardia, after receiving medication that was intended to slow his heart rate. Despite the sounding of heart monitor alarms signaling a problem, Hartford Hospital personnel never connected Ashmore's pacemaker wires to an electrical charging source to restore his heartbeat to his normal rate, Smith said.

Without the protection of a pacemaker, Ashmore's heart rate continued to slow to the point of cardiac arrest. And without a heartbeat, Ashmore's brain was deprived of critical blood flow and oxygen, leading to severe brain damage.

Ashmore was placed on a ventilator but three days later he was removed from artificial life support and died — leaving behind a wife, one son, two daughters, and one grandson.

The lawsuit alleged that negligence by hospital staff led to Ashmore's death. The trial at Superior Court in Waterbury lasted two weeks.

"This was a routine heart surgery, and Ashmore's recovery was proceeding as planned and without complications. There is no excuse for what happened here," Smith said.

"Mr. Ashmore's death was totally preventable if the staff of the Hartford Hospital had simply responded to the multiple bradycardia alarms and connected him to a pacemaker," Smith said. "It was clear to the jury, based on its verdict, that Hartford Hospital's staff neglected Mr. Ashmore, and he would be alive today if they had simply used the pacemaker wires installed by his heart surgeon."

Hartford Hospital declined comment.