summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE ” Former Frisco doctor Patricia Duletsky and her lawyers breathed a huge sigh of relief Monday as Judge Terry Ruckriegle read the jury’s long-awaited verdict ” Duletsky was not negligent in her care of a former Silverthorne woman, the late Susanna Martens.
The verdict in the civil lawsuit marks the end of a long and emotional trial for Duletsky and the plaintiff, Martens’ husband Rob Small, and comes after two weeks of testimony from expert witnesses, eyewitnesses and Martens’ friends.
Duletsky and Small both took the stand in Summit County’s district court to plea their respective cases.
Small filed the $1.5 million medical malpractice suit against Duletsky for the wrongful deaths of Martens and the couple’s unborn baby daughter, to be named Sarah Small.
He also sued on behalf of the couple’s first-born daughter, Shannon, now 9.
Neither Duletsky nor her lawyers, represented by Cooper and Clough of Denver, chose to comment after hearing the verdict.
The jury, composed of four women and two men, deliberated for more than six hours before making its decision just before 6:30 p.m. Monday.
“It was very, very hard,” said juror Susan O’Brien.
Martens was 36-and-a-half weeks pregnant when she died in the early morning hours of March 15, 2000. Her cause of death was a cardiac arrest triggered by the rare uterine bacterial infection Group A streptococcus. The baby died about an hour before Martens.
Seven hours before her death, Martens had gone to Duletsky’s office because she had vomited and experienced two uterine contractions. Duletsky also discovered Martens to have a temperature of 101.2 degrees.
Duletsky diagnosed Martens with the stomach flu and sent her home. Martens was admitted to Summit Medical Center at about 9:45 p.m. because she still wasn’t feeling well.
The plaintiff’s main argument was Martens and her baby would have survived if Duletsky would have administered antibiotics up until 11 p.m. on the day of their deaths.
“Susanna Martens was in the early stages of infection during at least three opportunities to save her life,” said Small’s lawyer, Natalie Brown, in her closing arguments. “If she had been given the opportunity, Susanna Martens and Sarah Small would be here today.”
Brown argued that by agreeing to treat Martens, Duletsky was held to the same standard of care as an obstetrician or an infectious disease doctor.
Meanwhile, the defense concentrated on showing that as a family practice physician, Duletsky acted as she is trained. She called in a specialist, an obstetrician in this case, when she recieved Martens’ blood test results back that showed an elevated white blood cell count, which can also be a sign of a bacterial infection.
Cooper also argued that Martens did not have uterine tenderness and her baby did not have a fast heartbeat ” considered to be two of the hallmark signs of a uterine bacterial infection.
“Dr. Duletsky can only deal with the facts as they are presented to her,” said defense lawyer Paul Cooper in his closing argument. “The fact is, no doctor stood any chance at preventing these deaths
Cooper added that the stomach flu can be worsened by the administration of antibiotics.
In determining its outcome the jury had to established the following were “more probably true that not:”
n Rob Small and those he is representing suffered injuries, damages or losses from the death of Susanna Martens;
n Duletsky was professionally negligent in her care of Martens; and
n If Duletsky was professionally negligent, that negligence cause injuries, damages or losses to the plaintiffs.
In this case, the jury agreed that Small did suffer injuries, damages or losses, but disagreed that Duletsky was negligent in her care.
Duletsky was a family practice physician in Frisco from 1988 to 2000 and in 1989, she was the only doctor delivering babies in the county.
She helped found the Community Care Clinic for uninsured and underinsured residents in Summit County and played an integral role in creating the birthing center at Summit Medical Center.
She moved to Salida in 2000 and is currently not practicing medicine.
Rob Small, who held the hands of his lawyers, Natalie Brown and Hollynd Hoskins, as Ruckriegle read the verdict, issued a statement just before the verdict was read.
“Anyone who knew Susanna Martens cannot help but feel a profound sadness when thinking of her and her baby,” Small wrote. “Susanna was my mentor, she taught me so much … Our lives were deeply enriched and substantially changed by knowing Susi.”
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