He was a father of two with a new RN certification. But without warning, Doug Shelby found himself in a medical emergency. Late that night in December 2006, Shelby was rushed to an emergency room not far from his LA County home. He felt like his “stomach had exploded.” His abdomen was distended.
At the ER, a CT scan found a large bowel obstruction caused by a hernia and he was admitted for surgery. But the doctor on call refused to see Doug until 12 hours later when a “code blue” was called.
He died minutes later.
The surgeon on call asserted in a note that he had “seen” Doug at 6 am and found him “stable” and “not a candidate for surgery.” However, his wife Sharon, an experienced RN, was with Doug and testified that the surgeon did not see or examine him. Doug was in agony.
Later an autopsy revealed the cause: a massive bowel infection.
After Doug’s death, dozens of lawyers refused Sharon’s pleas because California's $250,000 MICRA cap on “non-economic” damages were less than the cost of mounting the case. Doug had cared for his sons while his wife worked. Under the law, his family role had little economic worth.
Eventually they found an attorney who would take their case but despite the settlement, it was only enough after expenses “to pay for two years of community college for one son.”