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Misdiagnosed Pneumonia Nets Record $7.2 Million

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A DuPage County jury has awarded a record $7,200,000 in damages to the family of a Naperville woman who died in 1999 after her doctor misdiagnosed her pneumonia as alcohol withdrawal.

Instead of treating 48-year-old Claretta Roth with antibiotics that could have saved her life, Dr. Wael McTabi instead prescribed valium, a tranquilizer, Roth's attorney said Friday.

Jurors deliberated about 4½ hours Thursday before awarding Roth's family $7,200,000 in damages--the largest sum ever awarded in a DuPage County wrongful death suit.

"This family has been torn apart by something that was so easily preventable," said attorney Christopher Hurley, who represented Roth's husband, Mark, and her two children, Lindsey, 21, and Jason, 18.

Also named in the suit were the Glen Ellyn Clinic, where McTabi practiced, and Edward Hospital in Naperville, where Claretta Roth was admitted and later died.

Roth, a software tester at Lucent Technologies, went to McTabi on Feb. 2, 1999, suffering flulike symptoms, Hurley said. She was admitted to Edward Hospital, but McTabi didn't order diagnostic tests. The next morning, McTabi diagnosed her as suffering alcohol withdrawal, although Roth drank alcohol only occasionally, Hurley said.

No blood test or other diagnostic exams were ordered until later in the evening after her condition worsened, Hurley said, adding the "garden-variety" strain of pneumonia that killed Roth was easily treatable with antibiotics.

The largest award for a wrongful death suit in DuPage County was $3 million, said John Kirkton, editor of the Jury Verdict Reporter, which tracks legal settlements and awards.

Neither McTabi nor his lawyers could be reached for comment Friday on the jury award.

But an attorney representing Edward Hospital said Roth's condition deteriorated so quickly that medical personnel could not have saved her. "It was an unusually complicated case. This lady's abrupt decline was unpredictable," attorney David Hall said.

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