Jury clears doctor of negligent care charge

Jurors deliberated about two hours Tuesday and decided a physician wasn't to blame for the brain damage suffered by a woman under her care.

The verdict in Richmond County Superior Court came a week after jurors began hearing evidence in the case of Steven Plueger on behalf of his wife, Amy Plueger, against Dr. Connie A. Trello and Acute Care Consultants of Augusta.

Mrs. Plueger was admitted to Doctors Hospital in late March 2003. Initially, physicians believed she was suffering from pneumonia. When her condition worsened, she was transferred to the intensive care unit April 2, 2003.

Dr. Trello saw Mrs. Plueger for the first time in the ICU. Doctors Hospital contracts with Acute Care to provide physicians for that service.

Mrs. Plueger's attorneys contended that she suffered a tension pneumothorax, a compression of her right lung, by midafternoon. A chest X-ray could catch such a condition and a needle inserted into the chest cavity can relive the potentially fatal condition.

Dr. Trello's defense team countered that all the medical signs pointed against a diagnosis of tension pneumothorax during the day, defense attorney Thomas S. Carlock argued to the jury.

Mrs. Plueger was on a ventilator when she went into respiratory and cardiac arrest. Dr. Trello suspected tension pneumothorax at that point and inserted a needle into her chest, but no air escaped. That meant the lung hadn't collapsed, Mr. Carlock said.

The brain damage she suffered because of the lack of oxygen was tragic, but Dr. Trello wasn't responsible, her attorney argued.

The Pluegers' attorney, William L. Ballard, argued that it was negligent for the doctor not to order a chest X-ray during the seven hours Mrs. Plueger spent in the ICU before she crashed.

Mrs. Plueger, then 44, was without a pulse for eight minutes. Since April 2003, she has been unable to move, eat or communicate. She lives in a nursing home.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.